Incongruities of Place

Here I am, entering another small town after yet another week spent haunting a wild river and its scenic wilderness environs, this time with a now (mostly) wilderness-and-scenery sated group of fellow travelers. I just passed a sign that proudly proclaims this town (which shall remain mostly un-pilloried in this missive), with its 133-year history and ubiquitous Main Street lined with decaying buildings and dusty pickup trucks, to be THE WILDERNESS GATEWAY. No shit, here I look up through the bug-spattered window of my own dusty, dented and otherwise well-used truck, and see that this very town will be the site, this very weekend, of the IDAHO LIBERTY SUMMIT.

Now, my trusty Wiktionary traces liberty thusly: “Middle English liberte < Old French liberte < Latin libertas (“freedom”) < liber (“free”); see liberal.),” so imagine my chagrin upon realizing that I have foolishly made other plans, which in this case involves sitting my sweet ass down, driving another 800 miles and earning enough of the empire’s (rumored to be utterly worthless and filthy) lucre to finance my next exploration of wild and scenic backcountry.

I’ll miss the opportunity to be lectured about secretive “biggovernment” plots, by presenters specializing in “Righteous Indignation,” and the “UN Agenda 21, Wildlands and China in Boise.” (By the way, not staying for the speeches, I have no idea what the hell these titles mean. All hyperlinks in this paragraph are my doing, are offered in a spirit of fair play and/or fun, and were not approved by Summiteers, presenters or any biggovernmental handlers.) I’ll miss listening to a contributor to “Justice My Ass!” (please don’t ask), and I’ll not find out how wolves are eating all the elk before hunters can get a shot at them. (“Just who,” you may ask, “will get shot?” I dunno, but wolves, elk and enviro-friendly intermittently feral writer-types might want keep their heads down until the smoke clears.) Once again, I’ll be leaving town before the big event, living my mostly unfettered life in a swath of North America that seems irresistibly drawn to flaming causes that define the larger society as an enemy to be defeated on a battlefield strewn with slogans, strange bedfellows and the decaying hulks of formerly thriving communities gutted, abandoned or bypassed by the movers and shakers of corporatized American politics.


I saw the SILENT MAJORITY SPEAKS sign as I approached town. Saw the VOTE CORRUPTION OUT sign as I drove through a week ago, towing my 50-something-year-old raft trailer loaded with well-used gear, on the way to store it at the edge of town while I joined another trip. I should’ve known the haranguers were about to arrive, and made appropriate plans. It’s always this way, though. I missed the National Tequila Party Movement’s “kickoff rally” in Tucson, back in the spring when its website was injudiciously graced with a banner ad for a brand of tequila made in Mexico, thereby likely alienating a sizable chunk of the (now formerly Republican) founder’s donor base. I was on my way to the mountains and canyons of Colorado and Utah at the time.

I checked recently, and this movement still seems to be having trouble defining its goals, except for being some form of right-of-center leaning get-out-the-vote response to the spate of “Tea Partier” rhetoric that makes being brown in Arizona analogous to being black in Mississippi and points south, east (and too far west and north) a few decades back. Maybe it’s something about the name; though the founder tells a reporter that “It’s just a drink,” the group’s slogan is “your shot for change.” All this leads me by circuitous neural pathways back to catchphrases defining towns, events, people and their political movements. I’m a self-described well-groomed mountain man, with a history of spouting small-l liberal-leaning rhetoric spiced by anarchic actions never to be revealed in prosecutable detail, though mostly I stay under cover as a gray-bearded, amiable outdoorsy sort who never sits with his back to the crowd while in a dimly-lit bar that uses the words “Rod,” “Gun,” “Whitewater” and “Saloon” on a sign advertising its wares in a small Idaho town which, like The Wilderness Gateway loosely described above, will remain un-named in this piece.

I retrieve my river gear from the storage unit at the edge of town, am informed that all but one week of my storage fee will be returned since I didn’t use it (which makes me feel all warm toward ruggedly individualistic, libertarian-rhetoric spouting denizens of small Idaho towns). I decide to drive to the aforementioned Saloon to sip one more beer in front of the “SAVE AN ELK, SHOOT A WOLF” bumpersticker that graces the back-bar below lined-up bottles of cheap beer and rotgut tequila, and then to quietly slip through the “red state” bastions of Idaho and Utah on my way back to the left-leaning, downturn-shocked, teeming population center of my home range. Somewhere in the night, while sipping my last river beer, I’ll check in on the civilized world’s progress in my absence by the light of my failing laptop, and will see “natural” disasters, wars, riots, famine and angst. Studiously ignoring the attendant throng of pundits spouting rhetorical cure-alls from their respective political camps, with the last of my battery’s charge, I’ll also read that ’twas ever thus, courtesy MJF’s “Conservative.” Enjoy.