Midian Ranch Blog

This is the web log for Midian Ranch, an isolated homestead in rural Nevada. It is owned by Jason and Tina Walters, whom are also its regular posters. This blog is exclusively for the enlightenment and edification of our friends, family, and colleagues.

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Location: Gerlach, Nevada, United States

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Power Of Fantasy

I've lived on an an old wooden boat in the San Francisco Bay – one of the wettest lifestyles one can possibly imagine. I've also lived off-grid on a remote ranch in the Black Rock Desert – one of the driest lifestyles one can probably tolerate. But what both of them have in common is that they are open-ended engineering problems: work that can never be completed, like baffling equations out of this year's Ugly's Manuel that can never really be balanced.

If Labor = Time + Skill Level

Then Labor + Money - Wind = Ranch


Then Labor + Money – Water Leaking = Boat

If Labor (L) does not equal X, and Money (M) does not equal Y, then Ranch ( R) = abandoned buildings filled with mouse crap and surrounded by dead trees. Or, if you change the equation to something that involves salt, seal lions, and white bearded guys with missing fingers, then if (L-X) + (M – Y) is less than Y, you end up with a mast sticking out of the water at Pier 39.

You get the picture. These aren't lifestyles that appeal to most people. They shouldn't. Most people are sane. Most people don't want to drive 100 miles to buy a bunch of bandannas and some deck screws, or worry about putting their feet into a puddle of salt water when they get out of bed in the morning because their bilge pump's power lines corroded through during the night. Most people simply don't want that level of chaos and difficulty in their lives.

But I'm not most people. It's a fact that's made hideously apparent to me every time I drive to Fernley (population 19,368), look around, and scream “How do you people live in this urban abyss?!?! You're like rats, rats in cages stacked one atop another in a fetid jungle of steel and concrete?!?!” (Or I would if I weren't terribly polite. Instead I just think it. Very. Loudly.) Some people are just not designed to live around lots of other people. We don't like the restrictions. We don't like the rules. We don't like the rudeness. The we don't like the smell.

We don't like your driving.

Ultimately civilization is a bit like Los Angeles. It produces colorful, interesting things. Its fun to visit upon occasion. It's filled with people who are much better looking than you and your friends are. But in the end, it's soul is a prison cell done up like a themed suite in a Mound House brothel: it has the trappings of love, but none of the reality. It is void. Maya. Illusion. And no matter which girl you pick from the lineup, you aren't going to find romance. Just a credit card debt you can't pay and the lingering suspicion that you ought to see a doctor.

* * *

But enough about my state's colorful native culture.

Like I said: not a lot of people want to live an open ended engineering problem as a lifestyle. Those of who do aren't even members of 1% of the population. We're more like a percent of a percent. A .01%. And that's true for anyone anywhere. Given a choice, most Bedouin give up heating their tents with camel dung, move to an Israeli housing project, and get a job taking care of orange trees. Given a choice, most Eskimos stop living in igloos, move to Denmark, and learn to put umlauts over their vowels. That's what most people do: they exchange personal liberty for 420 cable channels and 24 hour access to blue flavored Slurpee’s. It's lame, but only human.

It's also because they aren't insane.

Now if you're Bedouin who thinks to himself: “If I could only turn my camel dung into methanol, then I could power a generator and get 420 channels of cable way out in the Negev. Then I could stop working in an orange grove, being kept awake at night by my neighbor's constant fighting, and having to pay ridiculous gas prices for my moped. I could get back to the business of living how a Bedouin ought to live. Only better, because I would have the Food Network.”

“And maybe if I had a camel-portable solar array, I could...”

THAT guy is part of the .01%. A crazy. An outlier. A brother. A dreamer of dreams. A mad scientist trying to escape from an infinity of villagers with torches. He's the kind of guy who tears apart generators in a blizzard on his ranch, or tries to grow fruit trees on an alkaline lake bed.

But there are others.

She's one of those petite scientists the French send down to the Kerguelen Islands to study arctic cabbage. You know her: the one that comes up with excuses not to leave when the last plane to Johannesburg is about to go and the icebergs are already in the harbor? The one who could have been a model or an ambassador's wife, but now she's all wind-bitten and gap-toothed, arguing furiously with a colleague in Paris about spectrograph results on Skype while smoking Gauloises? Yeah, that one.

The kind of guy who sets out alone from the coast of California in a 19-foot single-masted sailboat. He tells his friends he's sailing to Hawaii. He may even tell himself that. But in reality he's just sailing toward the horizon, to nowhere, to an imaginary island where there's fresh water, coconuts, and maybe a couple of Polynesian women wearing nothing but grass skirts. He never gets there. It doesn't exist. But he keeps sailing onward, hoping that Captain Cook and Paul Gauguin were on the level after all.

Why are people like us so fucked in the head? Why do we always cause so much trouble – especially for ourselves? Our camel dung doesn't turn to methanol, our fruit trees die, we don't find a new species of arctic cabbage, and Polynesian women don't wear grass skirts anymore. Yet we keep on sailing, even though it's apparent to everyone but ourselves that we are insane.

Why? It's because of the power of fantasy. Because of books. It's because we read a book at some point, lost our bearings, and became part of the book. And there's no way out anymore because we no longer exist outside of the context of that book. We've lost the plot, but the plot hasn't lost us, and there's nothing to do but see if maybe, just maybe we actually are Thor Heyerdahl, Cody Lundin, or James Wesley Rawles after all.

* * *

Of course there's nothing new about getting so lost in a book that you become the book. People have been doing it for as long as there have been books to get lost in. The entire Zionist movement believed themselves to be characters from a book. So did the Soviets. So did the Mormon settlers in Utah. Ayn Rand read Victor Hugo and O. Henry, fell in love, became a character from a book, and then wrote books that caused other people to become characters from her books. (In Rand's defense she was a Jew in revolutionary Russia. She was going to end up in a book no matter what she did. The Torah. Das Kapital. Mein Kampf. The Old New Land. At least this way she got to create her own book.)

Go to a training camp in Pakistan so that you can fight Russians in the Caucasus in the name of God? You're in a book. Moving to India to start a leper colony and preach the love of Jesus? You're in a book. Read Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, move to San Francisco's Castro District, and have a lover named Armando? Your ass is in a book.

So here we are in our books, pages dog-eared by repetition, stories overlapping so that the hero in one book is a villain in another; the princess in your story is the wicked stepmother in mine, in the prince in my story is the ogre in yours, the scoundrel in his story is the man of honor in hers. Books struggling with one another in the archives of history, pages bristling like angry dogs until we can't tell our Snidely Whiplashes from our Duddly Do-Rights or our Mother Mary's from our Whores of Babylon.

This too is the power of fantasy: the thing that makes us want to become high school wizards and questing hobbits and starship troopers and John Gaults. The books that won't let us go, no matter how we try to run from them. And this is also how you know your enemies. They're the ones trying to erase your pages so that they can fill them up with their own words.

Or, worse yet, none at all.

* * *

Of course the 21st Century frontiersman doesn't live in a single book. Rather, he dwells in a bizarre contiguous library: a juxtaposition, a cynosure academy, an alt-real archive that touches on so many places, times, and worldviews that it cannot possibly exist in a single location – if it can exist anywhere at all. Over the doorway, burned into a re-purposed railroad tie using old branding irons reads the inscription “We are definitely fuckups; but civilization is more fucked up than we.” (In Latin. Or Sanskrit. Or Motorhead font. Or something cool like that.) The halls within are low-ceilinged and dark, lit by kerosine lanterns, Coleman stoves, solar lights, hand-cranked flashlights, and the flickering remnants of discarded 1990's laptops. Nor does it contain any single sort of reader. There are old men in buckskins sporting flowing beards shot through with gray. Dark skinned cowboys with wild mustachios and dinner plate belt buckles. Middle-aged women in floral print dresses. Serious looking men in leaf pattern camouflage, and wild-eyed hippies in stained Carhartts. Nervous looking suburban businessmen and soccer moms, all periodically glancing over their shoulders as they peruse the pages of books whose contents are almost certainly politically incorrect, possibly illegal, and definitely socially unacceptable.

The contents of the library are as motley as the visitors who frequent its dusty, cluttered stacks. First there's the magazine section. Over against one wall lie decades of yellowed copies of Mother Earth News, stacked one atop another in vertical representations of lifetimes of adobe-slathering, greenhouse-building, goat-milking solarpaneldom. In a different corner lie mouldering copies of Backwoodsman, their pages printed so cheaply that the ink comes off on your fingers while you read them. Progressive Rancher, Range, and Small Farmer's Journal grumble from one bookshelf, while Backwoods Home Magazine preaches from another. Guns and Ammo holds itself silently aloof on the stacks: the coffee table reader of a revolution that is always just over the horizon, yet perpetually out of reach.

The How To textbook section. The largest, yet least frequented, area of the library. Countless books on how to create, install, steal, fabricate, fantasize about, use, and live with solar panels, windmills, micro-hydro generators, dehydrators, greenhouses, wood burning stoves, milking stools, deep-cycle batteries, wood gasification generators, water pumps, artesian wells, and chickens. (Always chickens. Chickens, chickens, chickens: the survivalist spirit totem animal.) Books about making earthships. Books about papercrete and cob and log cabins and adobe and living inside of old mines. This room is the Third Temple, the Mecca, the Salt Lake City of the library. Everybody has to travel there to pay homage, but nobody sticks around unless they are in the midst of a crisis – at which point they hang about with worried expressions on their faces, plunging through book after book in the vain hope they will one day be able to cheaply fabricate their own photovoltaic cells, bring $400 deep-cycle batteries back from the dead, or actually understand hydrodynamics for the first time in their lives.

Then there's the fiction room: the biggest, busiest, and most popular part of the establishment. Rand and Jesus are in there somewhere (the strangest of bedfellows, yet there they are). Nock is there too, angry at Rand for ripping off his ideas and disgusted that his beloved “remnant” turned out to be disaffected suburbanite poseurs dressed in buckskins and camouflage. Forstchen and Rawles hang about the back, waiting to get put on the terror watch list. Zerzan is already on the terror watch list (Unsurprisingly, as advocating terror will do that.), while Thoreau stares at all three of them in horror, wondering who invited them all to the same party. Robert Heinlein is naked, melancholy, and genuinely sorry he wrote Farnham's Freehold while high on pills. Copies of Earth Abides, Alas Babylon, Canticle for Leibowitz, and The Stand lean haphazardly against one another – dire warnings of apocalypses that will never happen – while Robinson Crusoe and Call of the Wild strut about with manly self-confidence.

Then come the Bad Ass Room – a popular place filled with army manuals and smelling like Thor Heyerdahl on a Nazi shooting rampage. Cody Lundin is there: mad, shoeless, fire worshiping prophet of the wilderness. His buddy Dave Canterbury is there too with his five C's (cutting, combustion, cover, containers, and cordage). Steve Watts is making Stone Age tools in once corner, while James Rawles (who has escaped from the fiction room using his ninja special forces training) demonstrates how to simultaneously deliver a baby, can vegetables, and perform amateur dentistry. Kurt Saxon – bigot, atheist, biker, children's toy maker, mad bomber, Scientologist, and coiner of the word “survivalist” - is trying to convince a pained-looking Massad Ayoob that they are on the same side (really), while Ragnar Benson is dressed in a Guy Fawkes costume, quietly building a crossbow out of an old leaf spring.

* * *

This is the library in which I live – the book which sooner or later turns all people like me into its characters. The crazies. The malcontents. The dubious people of uncertain profession. The gun nuts. The paranoids. The recluses. The dropouts.

The people who don't like your driving.

Most of the other characters in the library are visitors, not residents. Again: most people aren't crazy. They don't live in the wilderness, make their own jerky, or attend PrepCon. Most people work in a sterile cubical surrounded by a piss-stained urban abyss, drive forty miles (round trip) for the privilege, and live in model four (the one with the bigger dining room) in a subdivision surrounded by models one through eleven. They escape to their library because they cannot escape from their lives. But that also is the power of fantasy - and they know enough to know that you don't really go into the book. It's the difference between a flirtation and an affair, a glass of wine and a bottle of scotch, and a suburban strip club and a Mound House brothel.

Nice people don't go into Mound House brothels or have affairs. They know the difference.

Except some of us don't.

Those are the ones who went to Palestine to make the land bloom. Who pull their children from Kansas to Provo in a wagon while singing the strange hymns of a new faith, or take on the Spetsnaz in Kabardino-Balkaria with a clapped out Egyptian rifle while crying out for Allah. Or try to build their own personal paradise in the Black Rock Desert.

Because while we read the book, the book reads us. We don't rewrite the book: the book rewrites us. And now we can't live outside of the library, and are doomed within our souls.

* * *

I don't meet a lot of new people in person who live in the same book as I do. (A lot of people you meet online claim to inhabit it, but that hardly counts. A lot of people you meet online claim to be hot, single 19-year-old-girls too.) So when I hear about some tucked out of the way somewhere (And aren't we always tucked out of the way somewhere?) within 100 miles or so of Midian, I make it a point to go meet them. And so it was that I found myself barreling down Surprise Valley Road in my wife's clapped out Ford Explorer, a cloud of dust, a babbling child, and heavily armed Chris Karma for companions as we abandoned the comforting pavement of 447 for the gravel-and-dirt roads of the Smoke Creek Desert.

The people who I was going to visit are very private, so I'm not going to use their actual names or provide specific information about their location. Let's call them the Smiths, and all I will tell you is that their children go to school with my daughter. They live very far out in the deep desert on a forty acre spread surrounded on all sides by a vast sea of sagebrush. It's on an unmarked dirt road that's off another unmarked dirt road that's off a gravel “highway” which is similarly anonymous. There's no way to call them – cell service is sketchy at best out there, land lines are nonexistent, and they choose not to have an internet connection. But I had an open invitation, the weather was lovely, and it was the weekend. So I invited myself over.

I'd been to the same place years before, back when it was called something different and belonged to someone different, so I had a fair idea of where I was going. Still, there's always a moment of hesitation when you open a gate out here and let yourself in. You are after all in a very real way crossing a threshold you can't uncross; and it's always hard to say you're sorry with a .45 Long Colt bullet in your chest. So I wasn't unduly surprised that, after I opened the gate and drove into the compound, armed men emerged from buildings, flanking us on three sides.

Let's call them Uncle Smith, Pappy Smith, and Junior Smith.

I put my hands out where everyone could see them. “Hey guys! It's Jason Walters. You've met me before.”

“Who?” Pappy Smith was suspicious. A not a little dangerous looking.

“I'm Cassidy's dad.”

“Oh.” he relaxed visibly. “Oh, yeah! Jason. Good to see you.”

I gestured toward the car. Chris was emerging from the passenger side, waving broadly, all smiles and “not threat” despite the Glock .40 strapped to his hip. “I brought Cass with me.”

That really broke the ice. Everybody loves Cassidy. As I helped her out of the car, the compound's children poured out of the main building, a gaggle of happy, dust smudged faces calling out my daughter's name as if she were an ice cream truck that had taken a wrong turn somewhere in Sacramento and had magically found its way here, like a lost dog in search of food and companionship.

* * *

The afternoon proceeded lazily in the way that ranch visits always do. We rapped about guns, politics, our pasts. We compared notes on our worldviews and came to the conclusion that, if we weren't actually members of the same clan, we were most certainly members of the same tribe; characters in the same mad children's book. We compared our approaches to off-grid living – and, most importantly, how to afford it.

The oldest child – a delicate, elf-like girl of 13 – took me on a tour of the property, taking particular pride in their garden (very real and thoughtfully executed) and their golf course (mostly whimsey and moonshine, but very real to her). Like Midian, the Smith Compound is a mixture of genius, fancy, and half-completed folly, the primary difference being that it's more compact and that its inhabitants have the traditional desert rat's terror of throwing anything out. (Note for urban readers: It's not that we are inherently messier than you. It's just hard to get anything out here, hard to haul anything away, and hard to get anything you need when you might need it. The result invariably is a lot of potentially useful things, arranged into piles that slowly moulder under the beating sun, providing excellent alternative housing for mice and black widows.)

Afterward, while Cassidy played with the other children and Chris compared gun notes with Uncle Smith, Junior and I retired to his trailer – a surprisingly modern and nice little fifth wheeler. Junior is an artist of considerable natural talent. Most of his work is of a rather risque Larry Welz/ Cherry Poptart/WWII bomber nosecone art nature, but he does pictures for children as well. He showed me some of his work, plus patches and other emblems he'd designed for an outlaw biker club. We had a look at his collection of knives; very functional, no Bud K stuff from Pakistan, mostly either crafted by himself or resurrected from the rusting ashes of “dead” knives in a manner that showed incredible patience. (He cleans pelts with them.) We inspected his rifle – a battered but serviceable AK variant of some type (Russian? Yugoslavian? North Korean?) - and, most prized of all, in a handmade bookshelf so carefully placed that it might as well have been a shrine, his complete collection of Margaret Weis, Michael Williams, and Mary Kirchoff novels.

* * *

Of course it wasn't a complete collection of books by these three authors per say. Nor were they the only three authors in the collection. Rather, it was a complete collection of the paperback Dragonlance novels (even the new ones that nobody cares about). These three particular members of that varied and peculiar fraternity are merely the ones that I know personally. Margaret Weis – famed and successful roleplaying book publisher – I had a business meeting with once. Mary Kirchoff and I worked together on a project together at one time (a TV show that didn't happen), and I've published two of Michael Williams novels.

I told Junior this, and he smiled at me indulgently, as if I'd just told him that Rey Mysterio, Dale Earnhardt Junior, the Pope, and I reserved the Pyramid Lake fishing charter together each year. Or that I regularly communed with angels.

You know. Crazy.

“No, really.” I responded, sensing his incredulity. “I published two books my Michael Williams – Trajan's Arch and Vine: An Urban Legend. They're not much like his Dragonlance stuff, though.”

Junior's eyes lit up in recognition.

“I heard about those books,” he said. “Yeah. Michael Williams is a really good writer.”

“Yes.” I agreed. “Yes, he is.”

* * *

This too is the power of fantasy: the ability of a man who is a character from a book to visit another man who is a character from the same book, and for those two men to discuss how much they would like to be characters from yet another book – written by men and women who, at an early age and influenced by giants like Tolkien, Le Guin, and Lewis – longed to be characters in their books, but had to settle for creating their own books instead.

And, in all honestly, it is this power that at an early age set me on the road to living in a book. It wasn't Rand or Thoreau or Heyerdahl. (And it *damn* well wasn't Saxon!) Those came later. It was Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson writing Dungeons & Dragons. It was Le Guin writing the Earthsea Trilogy, and my mother reading me The Hobbit when I was a child. It was those crazy, homicidal Demon Princes books that Jack Vance wrote, and even Andrea Norton's marginal Quag Keep novel. It was the longing for adventure that plagued a restless youth, shaped an early adulthood of fast motorcycles, booze, and guns, leading finally to a romantic, almost melancholy desire to become a frontiersman, a settler, and to shape my own paradise from the formless chaos of nature in a place nobody else wants to live, and to record that experience for others to enjoy.

To write a book. To be in the book, to be of the book, and finally to be the book, until at last I cast off this mortal shell and wander forever in the realms of fantasy, leaving only books behind.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Wrongful Birth

With the possible exception of my long-suffering wife Tina, I love my three-year-old daughter with Down syndrome more than anyone else I know. She pleases and surprises me with her humor, affection, and cleverness every day. In fact, it isn’t enough to say that she is merely part of my family. In many ways she is my family: the heart that beats within its center, the glue that binds Tina and me together, and the force responsible for bringing me closer to my own mother and father at this late date in our lives. She’s the reason I get up in the morning and go through the basic, often unsatisfying detritus of modern life. She’s the primary reason I gave up drinking hard alcohol. (For now: I make no promises when she becomes a teenager.)

Nor can I overstate the basic humanity of my daughter. Cassidy is quick to laugh and quick to pout. She’s always happy to see her family and friends (of which she already has many), has a particular (and peculiar) taste in movies and television, loves animals, uses a combination of speech and ASL to communicate (though she can be difficult to understand), and enjoys the sorts of daily tasks we all take for granted, even though they are more difficult for her, such as taking her meals to her small table, taking the empty plates back to the sink, eating with a fork, and brushing her teeth. Like many other tiny female people she likes books, ballerinas, and the color pink. She is generally considered to be an attractive child. Her mother and I regularly get complements about her looks from total strangers.

She even attempts to emotionally manipulate her poor father, abet clumsily. And what could be more basic and human than that?

I’m not trying to sugarcoat my daughter’s genetic disorder with its accompanying physical and cognitive difficulties. Unlike many children her age, Cass can’t tell you her name (though she knows what it is) or how old she is or what color her wooden blocks are. She can’t do simple puzzles yet or hold a crayon properly. She regularly trips over her own feet, and her arms are shorter and weaker than those of her playmates (though her hands are oddly powerful). She suffers from muscle-weakening hypotonia, and can be almost ludicrously irrational and stubborn, even for a three-year-old.

I believe that most of these problems will pass in due time, to be (naturally) replaced with different, undoubtedly less-endearing problems. For that is the eternal nature of parenthood. But possibly some of them won’t. In spite of her many other fine qualities, Cassidy may never (for example) be able to complete simple puzzles or color inside of the lines in a coloring book. She may never be able to count properly. She may always live with her mother and me. We may outlive her.

But does that make her less of a human being? To me the question seems ridiculous: of course not. But it seems that to the vast majority of modern society, the unspoken answer is an emphatic yes.

The proof is in the demographics.

Those of you who are middle aged and older have probably already noticed that you are seeing fewer and fewer people with Down syndrome around these days. This isn’t because their lifespan, general health, or the quality of life has decreased on average; quite the opposite, in fact. People with Down syndrome are on average living longer, healthier lives and functioning better in society than ever before. Nor is my experience as the parent of a child with Down syndrome a particularly unique one. A recent study conducted by Children’s Hospital Boston (and published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics) shows that those with Down syndrome report an overwhelmingly positive quality of life; a view confirmed by their siblings. Most parents who participated in the study said they were proud of their child with Down syndrome, felt their outlook on life was more positive because of the experience, and had no regrets about having the child. In fact, 99 percent of adults with the disorder who participated say they are "happy with their lives," and almost as many say they like who they are and how they look.

Yet there are fewer and fewer of them. And there will be fewer still. The number of Down syndrome births in the United States dropped 11 percent between 1989 and 2006: a period when it would otherwise be expected to rise 42 percent based on demographic trends. One does not have to read Tolkien or play Dungeons and Dragons to grasp that my elf-like daughter is a real-life member of a dying, vanishing race. Nor does one have to be some sort of sentimental bleeding heart to grasp the tragedy that entails.

There are three key reasons for decline: ignorance, technology, and betrayal. Technology and betrayal are, by definition, exponentially more interesting. But as with most subjects involving the human race, it’s best to start with ignorance.

And to end with a moonrise.


Depending on what statistics are quoted by whom, somewhere between 85% and 95% of unborn children diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted before birth in an act of - let’s be honest here - socially acceptable genocide. Making it that way has been a long, careful process reaching back to the founding of Eugenics: a now publically discredited 20th Century movement to force “racial hygiene” on the American population through selective breeding. At least publically Eugenics is now considered to be a pseudo-science, though in the days preceding the Second World War it was considered to be a legitimate field of study with its own journals, think tanks, public and privately funded studies, and professorships.

Nor was Eugenics restricted to academia. A quick reading of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger’s fascinating, fascistic, often repulsive Woman And The New Race (the original, 1920 edition: not the ones her modern disciples have “cleaned up” for contemporary audiences) reveals dozens of references to the desirability of preventing the birth of children like mine. It “is nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit, of preventing the birth of defectives or of those who will become defectives.” It allows society to “gather perfect fruit from perfect trees.” Only then can society prevent “an increasing population of imbeciles.”

Nor did Sanger restrict such things to the realm individual conscience. As a founding member of the Eugenics movement, she sought to codify “racial health” – meaning racism, genocide, and forced abortion - into American law. In fact, she considered the elimination of people like Cassidy to be a moral imperative:

“We become fully cognizant of the burden of the imbecile upon the whole human race; when we see the funds that should be available for human development, for scientific, artistic and philosophic research being diverted annually, by hundreds of millions of dollars, to the care and segregation of men, women, and children who never should have been born.” - The Pivot of Civilization, pg. 100

So there you have it. If it weren’t for children like my daughter, we’d have colonized Mars, balanced the budget, and achieved world peace by 1935. Or some shit like that. (Self-serving moral relativism is a slippery bugger to get hold of, though Sanger’s modern apologists try very, very hard. They’re endlessly attempting to transform her into a sympathetic, saintly historical figure - rather than a violent anti-Semite who spoke at Klan rallies and helped establish the groundwork for the Nazi Party’s Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring. But the truth lies with the later, not the former, no matter how benevolent a smiling Sanger looked in her nurse’s uniform.)

In any case, Eugenics fell out of fashion after that whole unfortunate Holocaust matter, forcing its proponents to issue contradictory or conciliatory statements, whitewash their work, and generally go underground. But culturally the damage had been done: the idea that human worth is determined by a subjective criterion known as “quality of life” had already sunk in to the subconscious of the American people, where it remains to this day: a grim arithmetic used to justify disposing of those whom society deems "imperfect” before they can be born.

However, the prenatal genocide of children like my daughter is a cruelty that in my experience says a lot more about the ignorance of doctors, genetic counselors, foolish relatives, and nosey neighbors – the cultural inheritors of the pseudo-science of Eugenics - than it does about mothers. The vast majority of pregnant mothers, proud and swollen with life, look forward to the birth of their children. That is a normal, healthy human emotion. But doe to the damage done to our culture by the Eugenics movement, it has become the self-appointed task of these later-days Sangers to make certain that the would-be parents of those they deem “unfit” feel only shame, dread, and inevitability instead.

And the statistics show that they have been damn good at it.

We 21st Century Americans view ourselves as supremely tolerant. Yet ours is a society obsessed with perfection: both in ourselves and our children. We are infatuated with beauty, glamour, and intellectual achievement. We claim to embrace “diversity.” But that concept apparently doesn’t extend to any kind of genetic diversity. Right now it’s those with Down syndrome and other trisomy disorders who are getting it in the neck. But as the study of human genetics yields more information, other groups of “imperfect” people will see dramatic declines in their numbers. Almost certainly the next group will be those with autism spectrum disorders. Then, who knows? Epileptics? Gays? Those with a statistical predisposition to breast cancer?

This isn’t science fiction. It will happen. And who knows what we will lose in the process? In a way we really aren’t that different from the ancient Spartans, except that they were honest enough to look their “unfit” children in the eye before they murdered them.


For years, many women have had a similar experience: a blood or ultrasound test that indicates a heightened risk of Down syndrome, followed by a medical procedure to make a firm diagnosis by capturing DNA from the fetus.

Usually it's a needle procedure called amniocentesis, done almost four months or more into the pregnancy. Sometimes it's an earlier test called CVS - or chorionic villus sampling - which collects a bit of tissue from the placenta. Both pose a small but real chance for miscarriage, and the highly skilled practitioners the procedures require are not available everywhere. They also occur far enough along in the pregnancy that, in the minds of many mothers, the hypothetical “baby” has become an actual Baby(!): a situation serious enough to give even the most frivolous of people pause before terminating a pregnancy.

All of that is about to utterly and permanently change. Two California companies (They *would* be Californian, wouldn’t they?), Sequenom Inc. and Verinata Health Inc, are at this moment racing one another to get a new blood test to market that would replace the amnio or CVS by retrieving fetal DNA directly from the mother’s bloodstream. This test will be cheap to perform, non-invasive, and offer accurate results as early as nine weeks into a pregnancy: well before it becomes obvious to others, and for many mothers well before a “baby” becomes a Baby(!). In many cases this will prevent a lot of soul-searching on the part of parents: as it is intended to do, and as the medical establishment plans on helping it to do.

Sounds paranoid, doesn’t it? That doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, and possibly the federal government would target children like Cassidy for destruction? Unfortunately, it isn’t. It’s a fact because of the most basic of reasons: money. And the finishing touch on this tragedy came in the way of such things because of greed, shallowness, and a betrayal by people who should have known better: parents like me.


In March of this year Ariel and Deborah Levy of Portland, Oregon were awarded $2.9 million by a jury in a “wrongful birth” lawsuit filed against Legacy Health. This was due to the fact that the company hadn’t successfully detected the presence of trisomy-21 in their then unborn child Kalanit, thus “wrongfully” allowing her to be born, rather than being aborted. (The company had performed a CVS at their request, which came back negative.) According to the lawsuit, the $2.9 million is intended to help pay for the special needs of their child throughout her life.

In their case against Legacy Health, the Levy’s specifically pointed out that they would have aborted Kalanit had they known she would have Down syndrome. Then, contradictorily, they insisted that they love her very much - only, apparently, they aren’t pleased that she is alive. Or they wanted money. Or they were angry at the world for giving them a child with Down syndrome and wanted to punish someone. Or all of these things at once: the human heart is a very strange and fickle beast.

It’s unclear what the true motivations of the Levys were. They seem like a pleasant, prosperous enough couple. Ariel is a civil engineer and Deborah is a dental hygienist. They have two other normal children in addition to Kalanit, and live in one of America’s more affluent and beautiful cities. (And in a state with excellent low-cost health coverage for the handicapped, I hasten to add). Based on their statements they appear shocked that people are saying “hateful things” to them in light of their very public admission that they wish their daughter was never born. Which would seem insane except, that when viewed through the lens of what the Eugenics movement has done to our culture, their confusion is quite sensible. A child that *everyone knows* should never have been born has been inflicted upon them, so somebody must pay. Hence, someone gets sued. Given the nature of the decayed society we currently live in, I think the Levys are mostly guilty of severe cluelessness mixed with a supreme indifference to how their actions effect the lives of others.

Because what are very clear are the results of their lawsuit: potentially the first of many. The medical establishment (both public and private) now has a serious incentive to prevent the birth of children with Down syndrome, lest they be slapped with a never-ending serious of million dollar wrongful death suits. In fact, as tests for new potentially debilitating disorders and diseases become available, they now have a financial incentive to discourage the births of any abnormal or potential unhealthy child – a situation that dovetails with the prejudices and preconceptions of many individual doctors, genetic counselors, and those within the government’s welfare bureaucracy.

It’s a perfect storm of ignorance, technology, and betrayal brewed up in part by a couple of cast character yuppies from Portlandia. And it will wash over many, many types of children before it inevitably dissipates.

Blackrock Moonrise

Yesterday I drove out onto the floor of the Black Rock Desert with Cassidy, Tina, and our friends Elizabeth and Lisa to watch the supermoon: the closest approach the Moon makes to the Earth during its elliptical orbit. If was a cold sunset in the way of Nevada in spring, wind whipped and bone dry, and we headed east out onto the primordial lakebed until the treeless enormity of the Selenite Range dominated the eastern sky.

Despite her mother’s best efforts, Cassidy never really seems to fit into her clothing. Her shirts never seem to cover her tummy, her sleeves are always too long, and her jackets never seem to sit properly on her frame. They’re perpetually sliding off of her shoulders, one at a time. To make things worse she despises hats and gloves, and won’t wear them even on the coldest of days. So with understandable concern I set this most beloved of tiny vagabonds – hair wild, hands slightly purple – down upon the desert floor, stretching flat and almost infinitely outward to its boundaries of uninhabited mountains in all directions.

And then I gave her some freedom.

She took off, running with downward glances, aware as always of her own tendency to trip over the slightest obstacle. It was an almost painfully careful run that slowed only so that she could negotiate the inch high tracks left by SUVs on the desert floor. Now and again she muttered a word or two to herself that were rendered unintelligible by the wind, save that they were words and meant something to her. I followed behind, dutifully available for the occasional nervous glance she took over her shoulder, defiant of my authority but wanting to know that I was nearby all the same. We plodded on like this in silence, feet kicking up dust, eccentric father and vagabond daughter, until the giant orange moon rose majestically over the distant mountains and she tired enough to permit me to pick her up.

We rejoined her mother and our friends. They pointed up at the full moon and told her “moon.” Cassidy in turn pointed at it and repeated “moooo.” Then, in a moment of whimsy, Elizabeth began howling like a wolf. The rest of us followed suit and, in the short, joyful moments that followed, all five howled crazily like wolves, my daughter pausing only momentarily to giggle before resuming her soft, almost shy howl at the giant orange shape suspended in the heavens before us.

What does the future hold in store for my daughter? Will she be treated cruelly or kindly by other children? Will she know the tender touch of love? Will she be one of those rare ones that go to college? Will she be able to have her own family? Will she spend her life feeding chickens and tending the garden on my ranch? Will she die alone after her mother and I have passed? Will she die young from heart problems? Will she spend her declining years institutionalized and insane from Alzheimer’s? Will she die old and content in our tiny town, another of its pantheon of ancient, colorful desert rats?

Maybe. Maybe not. But one thing is for certain: there was nothing wrongful about her birth.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Magical Wal-Mart Reindeer On The Soul

A few days before Christmas Cassidy and I walked into Wal-Mart and saw a reindeer.

Well, Cassidy didn’t really walk. She was riding in a shopping cart. And it wasn’t really a reindeer. It was, in fact, a middle-aged minimum-wage greeter wearing an enormous pair of foam antlers (with bells on the ends, no less.) And this particular reindeer didn’t seem to be overflowing with endless amounts of yuletide joy, either. She was plainly exhausted; most likely at the very end of a tedious shift of smiling at shoppers as they came in, and then checking their receipts as they went out. Not a job likely to fill anyone with Christmas spirit seven hours, one half-hour lunch break, and two fifteen-minute state-mandated breaks into their work day.

But Cassidy was convinced that what she was seeing was, in fact, a real reindeer. She oooohed. She pointed. She repeatedly made the sign for reindeer: thumbs pressed against her temples palmed outstretched, with fingers waving. When I seemed insufficiently impressed she repeated the entire process, as if to say “Look Dad! Can’t you see her? A real, live magical reindeer is right in front of us!”

And then…

Cassidy is one of those people. The kind that is capable of walking into Wal-Mart and seeing reindeer. I’m the other kind of person. The kind that is only capable of walking into Wal-Mart and seeing tired, minimum-wage employees. Or so I thought. Lately I have come to the conclusion that, like my daughter, I have a disturbing tendency to look at things that are self-evidently one thing, and see something entirely different. Or, to be more specific, to see things in ways that irrational and self-serving, rather than seeing them for what they are: namely, bleak.

Doubt. It’s a powerful emotion. It’s also why this blog hasn’t been updated in almost six months. I haven’t been writing at all, really. The tiny Wal-Mart reindeer weigh too heavily upon my soul.


Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been working a lot. And I actually wrote a couple of posts: long, rambling weird ones. But I ended up scrapping them instead of putting them up on the blog. They were all too angry, too depressing, or too crazy sounding for me to inflict upon my friends and family. A typical example was “The Redneck as Jew,” an angry 4,000 word tirade about how rural Americans are treated by urban Americans in the 21st Century, with historical references, footnoting, and quotes from Napoleon.

So, yeah: you’re not going to get to read those.

But I’m also not going to lie to you. I’ve been having serious misgivings about my life out here. Not that I have any desire – or even ability - to live anywhere else. The dust has been ground too deeply into my personality for that. Midian is who I am. For someone like me, the trip to the desert can only be a one-way trip. Every place else is now and forever someplace else: one that can never be home. That can never really ever be real, even. But the vision I had for my life out here has eroded from the noble down to the grubby. Midian Ranch is a dirty, difficult place to live. Simply put, it’s a huge amount of work to live off-grid in a desert. Nothing you do here is ever easy. Everything is always breaking, freezing, blowing down, or simply disintegrating under the twin pressures of wind and sun (like my greenhouse, thank-you-very-much Mother Nature.) You never really get clean – not in the sense that townies and city dwellers think of clean – and your home never really gets clean either. It’s a never-ending struggle to hold the line at “mildly dingy.”

For a long time this lifestyle felt principled to me. Moral. An adventure. The constant struggle to bend wind, sun, and water to my will. To create my own personal paradise, free from the influences and controls of the outside world. [Solar panels.] To take the meaning from words like Freedom, Self-Reliance, and Independence and craft those meanings into a physical reality. [Wind mills.] To work. To live differently. To let the desert heal me, challenge me, and inspire me. To be a 21s Century frontiersman. [Spring Water.] To be a living roleplaying game character. To be science fiction. To settle Mars, at least in a metaphorical sense.

Now I increasingly feel that I’m see things for the way they really are. Doubt stalks my days, and my dreams are minimum wage Wal-Mart employees with antlers. I’m no visionary, no frontiersman, and no romantic figure. I’m a middle-aged, failed misfit who lives in poverty and obscurity with his unhappy wife, handicapped daughter, and oddball friend in a bunch of old doublewides and shipping containers on worthless land that nobody else wanted. My work and life have had no meaning, nor shall they. My exercises in preparedness and independence are exactly what they appear to me: evidence of a paranoid, deteriorating mind.

Or at least that’s how I feel on some days. Others are better. Those are the days on which I pretend to see the reindeer.


At its heart, there are three problems for me: or, perhaps, for someone like me. (You know me. You know the type.) Each is unique and horrid in its own special way. Each is a treasured problem, to be polished unceasingly like the barrels of assault weapons in that imaginary, secret basement compartment each of us has constructed in our souls.

(Okay… maybe that’s just me. Though, thankfully, some days involve less obsessive metaphorical barrel cleaning than others.)

The first - and perhaps the most important - is the obvious truth that changing locale doesn’t automatically change who you are. (Not that I saw that.) I wasn’t able to leave Jason Walters Stressed Out Messenger Service Owner behind when I relocated to the Black Rock Desert. I should have. It was part of my goal to kill that bastard as dead as cordwood by moving out here. But he was much, much more a part of me than I had expected. Taking him out of his element didn’t kill him. It just made him stronger, and now I find myself mired in numerous complex business schemes that have little to do with writing, building Midian, being a father, or simply having a good time. It’s like that part of me is a hydra: I chopped off Flash Messenger, and out grew DOJ Logistics, IPR, Hero Games, and Blackwyrm to take its place. All with the best of intentions, of course. Economic independence and whatnot. Puritan work ethic and so forth. Pulling my weight and blah blah blah.

It’s all a bunch of obsessive-compulsive crap. Or fear. A subconscious fear of becoming something other than what I was, even as I consciously strove to do just the opposite. But what’s the point of abandoning a society if you just tie yourself right back to it? It’s like I’m Gulliver and his Lilliputians all at the same time, perpetually binding myself to the ground when I could be flying around on the city of Laputa, throwing rocks at rebellious cities… or something. I might not be remembering Gulliver’s Travels properly.

In any case, the second is that it’s almost impossible for me to be happy for very long. Or, at the very least, I don’t seem to be able to be happy to the same extent or in the same manner that other people are happy. I can only catch fleeting glimpses of a happiness that slips through my fingers like sand when I try to grasp them. (Or maybe I flatter myself in to thinking this unique. Is it like that for you too?) When I was young I tried to inspire those glimpses with drugs. It didn’t work. As I got older, I switched to looking for them with alcohol. No luck there either. Then I came out to the wilderness, still looking for them in the vastness. No luck here either… though I don’t feel the lack quite as much.

Maybe it’s the same thing. Maybe that’s what happiness is: a lack of unhappiness. Or maybe that’s just what most of us settle for. Or maybe that’s just another minimum wage worker in antlers too.


The first two problems are ones that you, gentle reader, may have already dealt with in your life. The third and final problem is perhaps peculiar just to me. (Or, again, I may be flattering myself). It is this: I’ve grown to distrust pleasure, comfort, and convenience. When I spend time at Casa Azul (my mother’s lovely house in Gerlach), Reno, or in the Bay Area, I feel somehow guilty. Uncomfortable deep within my center; modern society, it seems, has become almost physically repulsive to me. It’s like central heating, nearby grocery stores, good restaurants, unarmed neighbors (okay: that would just be the Bay Area), normal water pressure, “stick houses,” and homes that lack entire packs of animals that consume all possible organic table scraps are somehow sinful, unclean things. It feels like I’ve violated a religious prescription… which seems to suggest that living out here has become my religion.

Or maybe it means I’ve become a genuine desert rat: by definition a one-way trip to nowhere. Or at least to here. But where is that? Somewhere… or nowhere? I’m uncertain. I have doubts.

I have magical Wal-Mart reindeer on the soul.

Which reminds me: I didn’t finish my story, did I? You know: the one actually about magical Wal-Mart reindeer. The one that ended with “And then…?” That one.

And then the lady with the reindeer antlers noticed Cassidy. She smiled, waved back, and said “Aren’t you a little darling? Merry Christmas!” She even looked a little less tired.

Cass waved back a final time as we rolled away, and then turned to me with a smug look, as if to say “See? I told you she was a magical reindeer.”

And of course she wasn’t. She was a tired, middle-aged, vaguely humiliated woman making $8.25 an hour to make certain nobody steals Monster High Dolls from the Sparks Wal-Mart.

And yet maybe - just maybe - for an instant, if you squinted very, very hard, she was.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

“Is Winter Finally Over?” and random thoughts on being blessed

[Note: It.Was.Hot.Today! Finally! This posting is a little more “stream of consciousness” than I like for things to be, but it’s time I returned to blogging. So there we are.]

It’s been a strange time out in the Blackrock Desert, but I think that it finally FINALLY won’t snow anymore. Really: it was snowing last week (the final week of May), though not particularly hard. In any case, it’s lovely today and I shouldn’t bitch, what the rest of the country being 90-degrees and riddled with man-eating tornadoes.

Though it’s been a hard winter, things are well here at Midian Ranch. Not easy, of course: these are hard times. But physically well, which counts for a lot. Now comes another frightening fire season. Fortunately our firebreak situation is greatly improved, with 30-foot cleared areas around the (now expanded) warehousing area, greenhouse, and generator shed. The burn areas around the homestead have also been improved, though for various reasons you can’t just drive a front-end loader around them, so there’s a lot of “hand” work involved in that process, not all of which is finished. But very soon it will be.

Cass is doing well: healthy, large, and developing well. She’s trying to walk, can stand a little, and is using her arms in the appropriate manner. She points when she wants something. Cass also speaks a little at this point, though she’s sometimes hard to understand due to the unusual shape of her mouth and tongue - though she says a lot words and phrases clearly enough. These include: mom, dad, hi, hi dad, Hi There(!), water, and what is it (?) ( which comes out sounding kind of like “izit,” but you know what she means.) Her sign language vocabulary is now large enough that I don’t always know what she’s trying to tell me: I’m guessing it’s somewhere between 30 and 40 words.

She also knows most of the Wiggles dances. Really.

I have no standard for comparison, but I would say that she’s 90% pretty much just a normal, terrible two year old (almost) - and that remaining 10% isn’t what I expected. It’s more like eccentricity than impairment, though perhaps I’m subconsciously putting a happy face on her disorder. #Shrug# Doesn’t really matter, does it? Nobody out here at Midian but us chickens… literally.

With my dad’s help I managed to buy an excellent 28-foot shipping container from the Bay Area and get it out here. It’s got an unusual ceiling height of almost 10 feet, making it perfect for a shop. I’ve begun the epic task of moving everything car, motorcycle, and small engine over to it, as well as constructing shelves inside. It’s going to be an enormous amount of work getting it just right, but it will free up a tremendous amount of space for work-related storage. Which, if everything goes according to plan, should prove incredibly important as we expand the operation to include two more specialized retail websites.

The money situation is naturally dreadful. But, then again, it usually is, so I’m worried but not particularly impressed. That’s one of the many advantages to living on land you own outright, working on your land, and having a certain amount of your diet come straight from that land: there’s only so much poverty can do to you. And our poverty is intermittently spiked with plenty, due to our own work, the generosity of others, and occasional good fortune so well timed that it can only be providence. So it isn’t all that bad if you have a certain amount of faith.

In conclusion, the various people, dogs, puppies, cats, and chickens at Midian Ranch are getting along passably well in trying times and under difficult circumstances, which is a great blessing.
Possibly it’s the only blessing you need.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Angel And The Sage

The Angel And The Sage [a parable about being the parent of a child with Down syndrome]

An Angel tumbled from heaven and struck the ground with such force that she broke her wings. Fortunately, she fell near the cottage of a Sage, who found her and took her home with him. He put her in his bed, tended her wounds, and cared for her until she awoke one day.

“Thank you for your taking care of me Sage,” exclaimed the Angel, “Soon my wings will heal, and I’ll be able to fly back to Heaven where I belong.”

This made the Sage very sad, because he could clearly see that her wings were forever broken and could never, ever heal. However, because he was a sage, he was also wise enough to know that he could never tell her this: for if she lost her hope of returning to Heaven, she would surely perish from sorrow. But he also could not lie to an angel, as she would surely know. So he thought very carefully before he spoke.

“Angel,” he said, “It may be that one day you will fly back to Heaven. But until then you will have to learn to live like a normal person. You shall have to learn to walk, speak, learn, work, and play like the rest of us, so that you can be happy until that day comes.”

The Angel agreed to learn to do these things, and he taught them to her. In time she became a special and loving woman, adored by everyone in the Sage’s community for her good cheer and compassion, and was happy even though her wings never healed.

Then one day to the Sage’s surprise the Angel unfolded her broken wings and flew away, leaving him to wonder: who was really teaching whom?

[Your child is already the Angel. Are you wise enough to be the Sage?]

Friday, December 03, 2010

The Coals, Waiting To Become Ash

Yesterday the United States Gypsum Corporation (or USG) announced the January 31st 2011 closing of its mine and plant in Empire, Nevada. Residents of the Empire – the last company town in the west – will have until June 20th 2011 to leave their homes, at which time the mine, plant, and entire town will be “idled.” One hundred employees and their families will have to leave the area to search for work and housing.

Those are the bare facts of the story. The reality is, of course, far less sterile and far more terrible. What is actually going to happen is that my community is going to die – and, as I predicted in the introduction to An Unforgiving Land, a way of life is going to pass forever from the earth, largely un-mourned save by the few of us that have lived it.

Empire Nevada has been in existence since the 1920s. Many of the people who work for USG there are second or third generation miners and factory workers. I personally have a friend that worked for the company for 42 years. It’s a very small but relatively pleasant place whose roads are lined with shade trees and slightly ramshackle duplexes. It has a community center, a small airport, a swimming pool, a golf course, and two churches (Protestant and Catholic), all backstopping the enormous edifice of concrete and steel that is the board plant. All of this is set back a half mile from the road. The first thing most people see when they approach the town, however, is the Empire Store on 447: the only store in northern Washoe County.

But within a matter of weeks the massive chimneys of that factory, which I have watched billow steam since I first came out here fifteen years ago, will go completely still for the first time in 90 years, and the lights of Empire will wink out one by one until they are no more. All of my friends that live there will be gone, scattered outward into a busy, hostile, and strange world in a slow Diaspora of rural, white, and working-class people who are in many cases unaccustomed to the sheer volume of crap that is 21st century urban life. A way of life – and not the worst one I’ve seen in my 40 years, either – will cease to exist outside of footnotes on Wikipedia and the odd story told to children raised somewhere else.

I suppose I should be angry with the USG Corporation. They would make easy villains, especially to someone who distrusts and dislikes urban America as much as myself. They’re based in Chicago, are a Fortune 500 company, have an annual revenue of 4.61 Billion, and operate 21 gypsum board plants and 14 gypsum mines in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. But, as someone who has operated a business, I find it hard to hate a company for simply trying to survive. A quick glance at the facts show that USG’s been in and out of bankruptcy for years, mostly as the result of a hostile takeover attempt in 1987 and continuing asbestos legislation. It’s stock prices have gone up and down – though mostly down - in an unhealthy manner, and it’s now competing unsuccessfully with cheap imported sheetrock from our BFF (Or is that our master?) China. Simply put: the company as a whole is either not profitable or barely so, and this is a corner they’ve decided to cut in their struggle to meet the conditions of their “Joint Plan of Reorganization,” as their most recent bankruptcy is called.

It’s simple, unpleasant math, administered as is usual in Nevada by faceless men on the other side of a continent.

Of course, the whole “idle” thing is garbage. The factory will never actually reopen, and the town will never repopulate. How could it? Within two years this entire region will be dead, and there will be nothing to attract potential workers to it. USG will wait a year for everything to die down, and then a salvage company will come in and strip everything out of the town right down to the copper piping in the walls. Within 20 years Empire will be little more than foundations, a huge, crumbling industrial structure, a couple of very elderly people who’ve been somehow forgotten about in their little decaying houses, and dying trees.

And, in all likelihood, Gerlach will be a variation on this same, melancholy theme.

Those of you who are familiar with the area know that Gerlach and Empire – technically referred to as the Gerlach-Empire Area – are really the same town. Empire is by-and-large the “neighborhood” with the families, churches, and people who work. Gerlach is the place with the hippies, bars, and retirees. Together they have a population of roughly 400, counting the people who live in the scattering of farms and ranches nearby: just enough people to have 75 school-age children between them and support a restaurant, a store, two gas stations, and three bars.

Now, much as the death of a Siamese twin quickly slays her sister, Gerlach is going to die, because a community without children is dead. 68 of our school-age children are going to have to leave, leaving a total of seven. That’s right: seven. Of the 30 employees of our school system, no more than two or three will be allowed to stay, and those only to teach kindergarten through eighth grade. All older children will have to be home schooled – an outcome which Washoe County has dreamed of for years in its never-ending, epic quest to defund its northern territory.

Oh, I know some of you reading this work for the county, and probably don’t like me saying this sort of thing. And most of you are nice people and mean well enough. But in the interest of complete honesty (And what’s the point of a blog – essentially, a public diary - if it isn’t honesty?), during a recent meeting about the closing of our medical clinic, I had some loud, unpleasant, and unfriendly things to say to county representatives. You know the type: the smiling, condescending facemen and power-helmet-women that governments and corporations send out when they have to actually interact with the local rednecks. The kind of people that, when they get back into their white cars with the symbol on the doors, talk about what an ugly place this is and how all the people are old and how they hate driving all the way up here.

These same people have contacted recently about changing what I had to say “for the final record” of the meeting. So let me say this: I only regret that I didn’t say more, harsher things to you, because Washoe County is the enemy of everyone who lives north of the Pyramid Lake Reservation.

Need proof? Let’s review some facts:

1) We had our own law enforcement under a constable system. Washoe County took that away and replaced it with their deputies. (No offense to our two local deputies: this isn’t directed at you personally.)

2) We had our own judge. Washoe County took that away and replaced it with nothing.

3) Washoe County tried to shut our senior center down over a $13,000 budget shortfall, while at the same time approving 1.5 million for an “open area” for the homeless to camp in downtown Reno. (Because, apparently, they’re more deserving than Gerlach’s elderly.)

4) Washoe County failed to warn us or offer to make up the budget shortfall of $160,000 when Nevada Heath Centers decided to shut down our clinic, while fully knowing they were about to get an additional 3.2 million in tax revenue from our area in 2011 with no outlay, due to the natural gas pipeline being built out here.

(I guess now we know why, don’t we? You knew something we didn’t: namely, that a ghost town doesn’t need a doctor.)

5) Washoe County has always wanted to shut down fully or in part our schools, and has never made any secret of this. After all, we don’t want valuable resources being spent on a few scraggily hillbillies in the north when there are real, civilized people down in Reno, now do we? And now they are going to get to do what they have always wanted to do: collect property and sales taxes from us and give us little or nothing in return.

So Merry Christmas Washoe County! I hope that property values continue to plummet, the Ruby Pipeline Corporation gets a property tax exemption from the Feds, and you go bankrupt anyhow.

I understand that in Judaism there is a weeklong period of mourning when a beloved family member dies called shiva. Not being Jewish I’ve never done this, but it strikes me as a good custom. So in the spirit of sitting Shiva for a loved one, I promise as an author to morn Empire using words, as fickle and fleeting as they are. It is the least I can do under the circumstances.

I will remember you as best as I am able with my often-poisonous pen. I promise.

As a father and a husband I have no idea what I’m going to do as Empire dies, pulling Gerlach down into the grave with it. It’s not economic. As long as the post office doesn’t close and UPS and FedEx don’t cancel their routs, we can go on being exactly the same amount of poor and in debt as always. But most of my wife’s friends are going to leave, leaving her with little in the way of a social life. The store will almost undoubtedly close, depriving her of her few little, but highly deserved, spontaneous comforts. The children who would have been my daughter’s friends are going to be gone, and I know that Washoe County will fight hard to give my child as little support as possible. I can expect to spend the next 15 years suing them to get the minimum that federal law requires for her.

Come to think of it, all of my carefully laid plans for the precious, wing-plucked angel I call “daughter” are now royally fucked. She will now not be raised around children she can be friends with for the rest of her life, and she will not be educated exclusively by men and women who are friends of mine. For all I know there will be no other children her age for her to play with at all.

All of these things fill me with impotent rage. But whom can I point the stark finger of accusation at? Who can I make myself feel better by hating? The Chinese for making cheap drywall and (rather cleverly) buying up my nation’s debt? That’s too big of a topic socially and economically for me to even wrap my head around. USG? That’s like hating the ocean for being wet. Corporations are not - and cannot be - charities. Washoe County? That’s like being angry at the vultures for eating a dead rabbit off the road, even when you’re a rabbit. You’re beloved mate was dead anyhow, and it’s simply the vulture’s nature to dine on corpses.

So nobody, really. Nobody to blame. Maybe things just die sometimes: pets, people, towns. Even 100-year-old ways of life. Sometimes the life of a thing is like a campfire you build on a cold night. It’s starts out promisingly with sparks and little flames. Then it roars into its prime, giving off more light and heat than anyone could reasonably expect. Eventually it dies down into coals, which can smolder on for what seems like an eternity. But in the end there is nothing but ash blowing away into the wind.

We who will remain are but the coals, waiting to become ash.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Raconteur

It’s been a while since I’ve posted to the Midian Ranch Blog. Things have been busy, and I’ve been working on my new blog Jason S Walters, Raconteur. This new blog is dedicated to my writing, editing, and publisher projects in general, rather than Midian Ranch in particular. Feel free to visit: there are sample stories from my collection An Unforgiving Land, a story from Michael Williams’ excellent upcoming novel Trajan’s Arch, and links to Michael Stackpoles’ excellent project The Chain Story. You can even have a look at my bibliography, if you like.

Speaking of which, An Unforgiving Land has been selling well locally out here in Gerlach, and even picked up a favorable review in the Reno Gazette Journal. If you want to read the “lost” story from the book (meaning the one I didn’t include so I could use it for other purposes), Crucified Coyote is also available for free. (Please forgive the incomplete introduction. It will be filled out as another link in The Chain Story soon.)

I will be putting up my next blog post/essay The Firebreaks shortly, detailing what we went through when the Rock Creek Fire nearly destroyed the Midian, Granite, and Iverson Ranches over a month ago. In the meantime know that Cassidy is cute, Tina is beautiful, and we have way too many dogs.