Wild Country: Call of the Far Away Hills
hunterbadbear at earthlink.net
Sat Sep 29 14:59:04 MDT 2001
This is being posted on our new -- congenial, and
no-rival-to-any-other-list -- discussion group: Come Over Red Rover. I'm
also posting this on ASDnet, full of good people, but contentious as pure
hell. And I might just do another list or two. It's a change of pace, you
might say, but it all goes over the Mountains Yonder and toward the Sun --
from the Left.
We live 'way 'way up high -- literally on the far edge of Pocatello, Idaho:
right on the "frontier". The really steep, rough stuff begins practically in
our back yard -- and, damn fast, it gets steeper and rougher and tougher. I
frequently hike many miles 'way up and far, far back. Discussion list
e-mail fencing and shoot-out duels get old fast as far as I'm concerned
[ I concede that I can occasionally be a bit less than perfect, myself ] --
especially snide comments, public threats to "turn off" one's e-mail
vis-a-vis any particular person, the cunning swipe, the sly wickedness of
"faculty meetings." I even heard yesterday or so [not directed toward me ]
the extremely archaic term, "guttersnipe," aimed quite undeservedly toward a
very good person. Of course, most of the people on that particular List
were born long after World War II and wouldn't even know what that
extremely unpleasant term means. I do, only because I read widely in a
grandparent's personal library which had some very old-timey things from his
Sometimes I need refreshment -- and not that drawn from the far below us
Idaho Bar. So I head into the Back Country -- hearing the Call of the
Far-Away Hills [theme from the great 1952 flick, Shane.] All I have to do
is go out my back door.
Early this morning, my oldest daughter, Maria, and I [and the family Shelty,
also named Hunter] headed up and away. I've got the boots for it -- Size 15
Vasque; and I have an excellent hat -- top-of-the-line -- Akubra --
Australian Cattleman's wide-brimmed, high crown, with a kangaroo hide
neck-strap. The boots keep one from plunging to disaster -- and the hat
handles intense sun, super-strong wind, torrential rain, and sheeting snow
very nicely indeed. It's cooler now, there's been more rain. Game -- mule
deer, elk, moose -- are moving down from the high country where, in the
draws, the relatively few wide-leafed trees in this predominately cedar,
juniper, and pine setting began to do their seasonal change several weeks
ago. The coyotes are coming down, too, and we now hear them only a couple
of hundred yards away at night -- and so are the mountain lions who are
leaving their long, wide scratch sign in the cedar and pine needles not far
at all above our house.
When you get 'way up there -- on the high, high ridges, where the wind
sometimes blows 70 miles an hour [though not today], you do get a fresh,
renewal perspective: all of the contours of the hills and the mountains and
the ridges and the draws and the canyons blend together in natural unity
under the deep blue sky and the great high clouds and the blazing sun.
Human beings, trees, mountain lions, circling hawks and flapping wild sage
chickens and jumping deer, the brush and the rocks -- are all Creator's
kin. In this kind of setting, you could see your human enemies and you'd
all get along just fine. Unless, of course, they were the Bosses! -- and
the Bosses would dearly love to privatize this BLM [Bureau of Land
Management] vasty turf and use their alchemy in deadly and wrecking fashion
to turn all of this into green paper and corporate power. But we're not
going to ever let them do that.
It's right up here -- in this very area -- where my great/great/great
grandparents, John Gray [Ignace Hatchiorauquasha] and Mary Ann [Marienne
Neketichon ], Mohawk [Iroquois] Indians, maintained their winter camp. He,
an accomplished knife fighter and trapper, was from the St Regis reservation
in up-state New York and she from the Caughnawaga reserve near Montreal. He,
the culture hero of our family, was the leader of the Iroquois fur hunters
in the Far West during a big piece of the first part of the 19th century --
and led the first labor strikes in the Rocky Mountains: against the fur
bosses of Hudson's Bay Company and the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. The
British called my great ancestor "a turbulent blackguard, a damned rascal."
For his part, [quoting from the written record of fur boss Peter Skene
Ogden's assistant], John Gray could readily launch into a denunciation of
the policies of HBC in general and the men of the Columbia Department in
particular: ". . .the greatest Villains in the World & if they were here
this day I would shoot them." His oldest son, my great/great grandfather,
Peter Gray, was born in this immediate setting at their winter camp. This,
along with the peculiarly and tremendously challenging social justice issues
of Idaho, is why we came to this particular place.
Up there in the rough/tough country, all of the layers of petty things --
the venial sins, so to speak -- are swept away by the cleansing elements.
You see the Great Commonalities, the Blending, and you see the Realities --
and the Realities call for Solidarity. Not a Solidarity static or
stagnant -- but a Solidarity straight ahead and hard for sheer survival
and, far more basically, against the Real Enemies .
That's what you learn again and realize afresh and bring back down with you.
It's what you try to keep.
It's what we have to keep -- a Fighting Solidarity -- and use to the hilt
And, sometimes quite unexpectedly, you make very strange new friends. This
is a piece I wrote a year ago, which was published in the January/February
2001 issue of the excellent socialist journal, Against the Current [which
has published other things of mine.] It's carried from the ATC website
format onto my website and reprinted herewith:
Unfriendly Forces, Mountain Lions and Our Rattlesnake Friend
Reflections on Idaho
by Hunter Gray
WE MOVED TO Pocatello, Idaho three years ago. And there are certainly some
mighty friendly people hereabouts. But from the very moment we first
arrived, we've been subjected to bizarre harassment-coming obviously from
Federal, state, local "lawmen" and vigilante types, and just as obviously
stemming from my traditionally Left Native rights/civil rights/labor
affiliations and beliefs and history and contemporary activities.
Surveillance, blatant interference with our mail, very weird telephone
experiences-including hate calls, people taking photos of our house,
intricate garbage searches, mounting indications of sub-rosa
vilification-and much, much more have been a consistent part of our scenery.
We are, of course, fighting back and will keep right on keeping on doing so.
To quote the old Mississippi saying: "Our enemies can go straight down to
Hell and wait there for us to change our minds."
My boyhood Western catechism from old and very old-time members of the
Industrial Workers of the World and, later, many rich and positive
experiences from in and around the old Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers-and a
myriad of other activist organizing feathers of mine as I've grown through
the decades: All of this adds up, among other things, to "It's better to be
called Red than be called Yellow," and all of this flies high and boldly in
my full consciousness.
But this is a social commentary that is really, in many ways, about a
rattlesnake-a rattlesnake friend.
I grew up in the wild and rugged mountains and canyons around the then
quasi-frontier Northern Arizona town of Flagstaff. Early on, I was an avid
hunter-had my first rifle at age seven-and soon enough distinguished myself
as a trapper.
Most of Arizona is rattlesnake country. I killed my share of them before I
hit my mid-teens. Somehow, more or less consciously, I believed it was my
duty to do so. Most people-but not I any longer-still feel that way.
My very first invasion of the news media involved a rattlesnake situation.
This, from the Arizona Daily Sun [Flagstaff/Coconino County], late June,
SONGWRITER'S SON IS VERY LUCKY
"John Wood, 13 year old son of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Wood, residing south of
Flagstaff, got introduced to an Arizona rattlesnake Wednesday of this week
while exploring Grass Canyon, near Schnebley Hill, but suffered no ill
effects because of the quick thinking of John Salter, Jr., his companion,
"The snake was coiled within striking distance when the Salter boy killed it
with an accurately aimed .22 rifle bullet. Wood must have felt he was
carrying with him one of the four leaf clovers his famous song-writing
father composed, "I'm Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover'..."
In that situation, I had to do what I did-and I have no apologies.
I didn't kill every rattlesnake I encountered. When our wide-ranging high
school hiking club plunged into the Grand Canyon (half a day down to the
bottom) and trudged up (two days), we'd frequently pass rattlesnakes camped
by the trail in the shade of a rock or a bush. We were far too preoccupied
and trail-focused to take them on.
Then came a very abrupt shift in my generally violent anti-rattlesnake
attitude. I was 18, my 45/70 Winchester in hand-taking an obscure game
trail down into the vast Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Area, southwest of
Flagstaff. Suddenly I saw a tiny rattler-very tiny, only a few inches in
length, a minute rattle at his tail tip-coiled by a rock, right in the
middle of the trail. It was so absolutely small that, if it rattled, I
couldn't even hear it.
The still-coiled, near-baby snake looked feistily up-right at me. His
message was, however telepathically conveyed, sharp and crystal clear.
And I began to laugh. With my big-bore 45/70 I could have, in a split
instant, eliminated every physical vestige of my brave-hell,
admirable-little adversary. But how could I have ever done that?
For a long moment more, we looked at each other. And then the tiny
entity-his point made very well-uncoiled in leisurely fashion and moved
slowly away. For my part, in a gesture of respect and deference I, too,
And from that point on, I never killed another rattler. When I encountered
one, I simply gave him his space. But I never felt the warmth of friendly
empathy with one-until very recently indeed.
We live on the far far up western "frontier" of Pocatello-right on the very
edge, only a few other houses around us, and with almost all of the town
well below. From our door we can walk a few feet and be in open country:
high steep hills shooting up almost out of our back yard. We often walk up
into the rugged hills and ridges-way up and far into the back country. Wild
"critters" of all kinds abound and we frequently see mountain lion (cougar)
tracks in certain special settings that we've located.
Even many of our very nice neighbors are worried about the lions. We are
not worried. Northern Arizona is certainly lion country and they've never
bothered any humans of whom I've heard. Lions are curious, and skittery
humans often mistake that quality for predatory, stalking hostility.
I remember, always with real pleasure, a very large lion (by its size,
obviously male), that followed my father and myself for a long time in the
rough Rim country, south of Flagstaff. We were hunting but it never crossed
our Native minds to kill such a magnificent manifestation of the Creator's
The lion stayed about twenty-five yards behind us and, when we stopped and
looked back at him, he too stopped. Then we all continued until, finally,
my father and I dropped below a ridge. For the longest time, the lion,
profiled on the very top, gazed down at us until we faded into the pines and
Now, when we see the large, rounded paw prints in the high-up hills west of
our far-up house-always hoping to see a lion in the flesh-we feel kinship.
For we, too, are having our problems with some of the humans hereabouts.
But a rattlesnake?
Not very long ago at all, my oldest daughter, Maria, and I-accompanied by
our Sheltie, Hunter-once again wended our way up into the ever higher
brush-covered hills, following a bare trace of a trail. I went first and
Maria was some distance behind. Suddenly, she yelled, "A snake!"
I turned and walked a few feet down toward her. She pointed to a bush
slightly below me and to my left.
"It's in there." She then explained quickly that, when I walked up past the
bush, no snake was visible; but, just before she got to it, a snake started
to emerge, then withdrew. I went cautiously to the bush.
And it was indeed a snake-and a rattler at that! A young desert-type, light
gray with interesting designs and about three rattles, was moving slowly
back, edging away from us, deeper under the bush and into tall grass. We
stared at him and his graceful movement, fascinated.
Hunter arrived and, from deep in the bush and grass, came a perfunctory
We moved on, then, further up and away-checking our special places, studying
the new lion tracks. But the rattlesnake was much on my mind. I realized
that, unlike every prior rattlesnake sighting of mine, I had felt not an
iota of aversion or revulsion.
For Maria-ever the faithful friend of all creatures-this was not unusual.
But for me this was, frankly, extraordinary. And then, away up on a super
high ridge, looking down and to far off Pocatello, I suddenly realized that,
in some completely inexplicable fashion, the snake and I had bonded.
"Let's go back the same way," I told Maria. "Maybe we'll see him again."
Now, going down slowly, I in the lead, we came to the Land of the Snake:
high brush, the trail now extremely faint and narrow-and then the Bush!
The rattler was not visible therein. I felt a sharp cut of genuine
disappointment. "Not here," I said to Maria-and we moved slowly on down.
And then! Then suddenly-there he was in all his splendor, lying literally in
the trail immediately ahead of me: dusty gray, designed, graceful. And even
as I stopped, abruptly, with a warning note to Maria, he coiled in a split
instant and faced me, head held high.
He didn't rattle because he didn't have to: Our eyes were locked together!
"Take it easy, amigo," I thought to him. "We're buddies."
In a twinkling, he uncoiled and moved away into the brush and grass-in the
same leisurely fashion as my long-ago feisty baby-snake at Sycamore. We
watched him for a moment; then, in deference again, we moved to the other
side of the trail and continued onward.
As we tell no one beyond the family and a couple of close friends the
whereabouts of the lion tracks, Maria and I pledged never to reveal the
rattler and his home area.
But residing in the full consciousness of my mind the rest of that day and
into the late evening, was the question: "Why in hell have I bonded with a
snake-and a rattler at that?" I went to bed.
And, as it always does, my mind worked things through as I slept. Arising
at 4:30 a.m. and sipping my first cup of strong black coffee, I had my
"Call me Ishmael," Melville wrote, a long time ago. And while we have many
friends in this Pocatello and general Idaho setting-and certainly many
indeed across the country and into Canada and Mexico-it has been a tough
experience for us these past several years in this southeastern Idaho town.
But, of course, I've followed the trail of the radical organizer ever since
I was a teen-listening to the drum of History, and with others helping make
a little-and it's always been this way. Hard not to see ourselves as
Ishmaelites of some sort, perceived by all kinds of so-called "lawmen" and
many "respectables" as outcasts on the edges.
But there are many of us, many indeed-and there will be many many more.
It takes an Ishmaelite to recognize an Ishmaelite-even one to whom the
Creator gave another shape: my good friend, my doughty buddy under the bush
against whom virtually every human hand would hurl rocks and bullets, even
though all he wishes is to be left in peace to pursue his Vision to the Sun.
That's what I realized at 4:30 that morning and I know it now and forever:
He was ready to fight. We fight on.
HUNTER GRAY [John R. Salter, Jr.], "Hunterbear," a half-blood Micmac/St.
Francis Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk, grew up at Flagstaff, Arizona. Since the
mid-1950s, he has been deeply and consistently involved in grassroots
organizing: Native rights, radical labor, civil rights, anti-poverty , urban
His trail has extended from the Southwest to the Deep South, Pacific
North-west, Chicago, up-state New York, Navajo Nation, Northern Plains, and
Rocky Mountains. Trained as a sociologist, he has occasionally taught-while
organizing still-at such places as Tougaloo College, Goddard College,
University of Iowa, Navajo Community College [now Dine' College] and
University of North Dakota.
His written work has appeared over the decades in numerous journals and
books. He is the author of Jackson, Mississippi: An American Chronicle of
Struggle and Schism [Krieger, 1987.] He presently lives at Pocatello,
Idaho, with coyotes, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes among his friendly
neighbors and is, as always, a committed organizer and socialist.
In Solidarity -
Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]
www.hunterbear.org Come Over Red Rover
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