At the Edge of Zion: Cowboys and Indians

“Pass through as does the vanishing lightning and don’t worry.”
-Jack Kerouac-

It is deep winter up by the border and only the most determined and well-equipped terrorist who is good on snowshoes could sneak across through the woods this time of year. I need to get outside and shovel the snow off the roof. From the cabin I can barely see the tops of cars traveling the river road between the snow banks pushed up by the road plows. So quiet out here it is an event when a car goes by. You can hear them coming from a long way off. I counted twenty all day and fifteen of those were Homeland Defense or Border Patrol.

The Indians on the Res across the river are heating up stones for the sweatlodge and they’ll be praying for new pickups and the return of salmon that will never make it past Chief Joseph Dam. And there will be some prayers of thanks, and then some secret prayers that’ll do about as good as the salmon prayers.

The county is mountainous and remote and sparsely populated. Back in the 70’s my nearest neighbor was six miles away, but we have people pretty close all around us now and I swear they moved out here just to shoot their guns off. These people shoot a lot. Bullets are expensive and my neighbors must spend a good deal of their income on rounds. They are edgy and scared and fixin to shoot it out with the “libruls” who they know harbor plans to overcome them, destroy their way of life and seize the guns. We all have guns around here, and me too, but I’m already a damn good shot and I’m saving my bullets for other things.

There’s been a wave of new people moving into the county since 1999 when they thought something big was going down in 2000. Remember that? Some of these people thought the world was going to end. Mostly folks from the South, coming for the cheap land and relative remoteness, looking for a place to live out their own wild west fantasies – and they’ve brought all the necessary accoutrements: god, guns and homemade meth. There is diversity among them to be sure, but a diversity that is almost clichéd – there are the fundamentalist-Zionist back-to-the-landers; there are the rotten-toothed confederate cranksters with the misspelled tattoos; the Nazi skinheads; and there is discernable shading and overlapping between them, but they all love Sarah and Rush and they are all white supremacists and consider themselves very patriotic.

A rancher about ten minutes down the road from us parceled off his place and a bunch of Christian fundamentalists from South Carolina bought the parcels and set up their own community with a school and a firetruck and a rifle range where the community militia practice firing their guns. They wear a lot of camo and I’ve seen a few Blackwater t-shirts, as some of them work for Blackwater (Xe).

And they like to think they are cowboys. You see a lot of cowboy suits. These people have become the new cowboy culture and you go to a rodeo anymore and there is a lot of public prayer and the announcer sounds more like a preacher than a sport announcer. A friend, who is an older breed of cowboy, and I were riding our horses around the contestant parking area at the rodeo and we saw a guy praying beside his very expensive custom pickup with an equally pricey custom horse trailer hooked to it, and I asked my friend what he thought the guy might be praying for.

“Aw, probly jes prayin he’ll win some money,” he said.

You wonder what these people do for work. There aren’t many jobs in the county. But we do have a lot of cops. The usual county sheriffs and state cops, but with the border close by there is quite a bit of extra security: Border Patrol, ATF, Homeland Defense, you name it. So most of the folks who live in Zion down the road have the cop jobs. They are on patrol. That’s what they do: patrol. You see them parked up old logging roads just keeping an eye on things. There isn’t a lot for them to do, but there sure is a lot of them. You get the impression they are the Republican job-creation plan. More cops on patrol. More security. Over the past ten years or so they’ve caught a few hippies trying to sneak in with packpacks full of B.C. bud. So if you look hippish there is a good chance you’ll get pulled over around here.

A lot of the old locals aren’t crazy about the wave of newcomers, and all the cops poking around in the woods and up and down the roads irritate them. I was talking with old Mae Wilson the other day and I guess she found a couple of the Homeland Defense guys parked and blocking her driveway while they watched for suspicious traffic on the road. Mae told them they were blocking her driveway and that it was private property and asked them to go park somewhere else. I guess one of them got smartass with her.

“Lady we park anywhere we want. We can kick your damn door down if we want to.”

Mae told him: “Go ahead and I’ll be standin right behind it with the shotgun. You idiots don’t have enough to do?”

Mae says they zipped their lips and rolled off after she told them that. Aw well. That’s how it is now. I guess they’re here to stay. Soon as I get that snow knocked off the roof I’m heading over to the Res to pray with the Indians.