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Lions Roar : March 2006
'"d ::r: o """Ì o @ tv o o U1 s;:: t"rJ C/J I":: s;:: t"rJ C/J I":: (J o s;:: Upper Green River Lake and Squaretop Mountain, Wyoming. granite flanks, and meltwater fell from the edge of the faulted plateau. Massive terminal moraines wound down on either side of glacier- cut canyons smoothing the landscape into wide meadows and un- dulating moraines-an alpine universe entirely carved by ice. Now the view is not of ice sheets but of the sculpted body of land after the retreat of ice: bowl-like meadows, ice-scoured plateaus, uplifted Archean basement rock, polished granite walls amidst crowded peaks, towering cirques, string lakes, U -shaped canyons, and wild rivers that flow into three major watersheds- the Columbia, Colorado, and Missouri rivers, which spill into slow oxbows and hard rapids, straightening and crooking their necks like swans. The Wind River Mountains push southeast like a thick thumb from the wilderness matrix that holds Yellow- stone Park, the Tetons, and the Gros Ventres. They are an ap- pendage of the Rocky Mountain cordillera that stretches from the Brooks Range in Alaska to the Sangre de Cristos in northern New Mexico. They carry a piece of the Continental Divide like a snake on their bold shoulders and create their own weather. At twelve, thirteen, and fourteen thousand feet, clouds curdle, pool up, spill down, and loft sideways; ribbons of stunted trees waver beneath granite walls stained by the leaking meltwater of blue tarns. The Winds are pinned at an angle to Yellowstone Park and its active volcano at the northwestern part of the map. When the vol- cano blew 640,000 years ago it destroyed a mountain range bigger than the Winds, killed off prehistoric camels and mammoths, and poured a deep ashbed across Montana and Wyoming. Because the volcanoes occur in 600,000-year cycles, the Yellowstone volca- no is now 40,000 years overdue. Earthquake "swarms" have been shaking the ground in the park and the ancient caldera that holds Yellowstone Lake has begun to bulge again. Running north-south at an angle to the Winds are the Gros Ventre Mountains, and these are connected by the Hoback River to the east-west Wyoming Range. In the sheltered cove made by these three mountain ranges lie the Upper Green River Lakes, the Green River, and the sage-steppe grasslands of an ancient migration corridor, in use for at least 6,000 years; on it 100,000 animals-antelope, mule deer, and elk-move from the high country of the range to the Red Desert. This is their winter habi- tat-eight million acres of windblown native grass and sage. moose, and the joys that we find living among them. At this writing the Red Desert, the Hoback, the Upper Green River Valley, and the entire Yellowstone ecosystem-every river, lake, valley, and mountain-is under siege from the oil and gas industry. To the south, on a mesa above the town of Pinedale and the New Fork River, the Jonah Field has been transformed into an industrial area with 1,500 gas wells and thousands more planned. They would like to put natural gas wells everywhere from the Up- per Green River Valley to the southern tip of the Red Desert. Mountains represent danger; they give us beauty in jolts. We go up into thell1 to experience hardship and find our- selves overCOll1e with what the Chinese call "rustic joy." TO SEE IS TO STOP. To open oneself to what is there. To open one's eyes, nostrils, ears, or as John Muir suggested, stand on one's head to see the world anew. The beauty of the natural world is given to us. We abuse the gift by not looking, by using it for profit, by not recognizing its intrinsic value. Real wealth is biological diversity: sun, grass, water, birds, antelope, elk, bears, How these mountains, glaciers, rivers, deserts, and valleys con- nect and work together as critical habitat and a place of unique beauty tells the story of why we must work hard to protect this part of the world. MOUNTAINS ARE A VERTICAL ALTAR and a wide barricade. They push and pull us; they dismantle confusion and reconstruct darkness as light. By thinning oxygen they go against life, and give it back in the form of elbow room. They represent danger; they give us beauty in jolts. We go up into them to experience hardship and find ourselves overcome with what the Chinese call "rustic joy." Mountains provoke a different kind of breathing, as human entanglements come unraveled and vision clears. Mountains are both forbidding and enticing: they invite us in and throw us out. Their vertical intricacy acts as a narcotic on us. Thought to be the center of the earth in indigenous cultures, mountain environments have been celebrated in poems and songs since humans began walking their trails, bathing in their rivers, finding food in their high meadows, and taking refuge in their caves. The first inhabitants of the Wind River ecosystem were the people called the Sheep Eaters. One was named Togwotee, a sha- man for whom Togwotee Pass is named. The Sheep Eaters lived in the high country and made their winter homes on the north- eastern side of the Winds near Sleeping Ledge in the Dinwoody drainage. Their medicine wheels, at the tops of mountains, were made of rocks positioned in the shape of a wheel with twenty- eight spokes, said to represent each of their tribes. In the middle was a stone hut for the tribal chief. Along the spokes the partici- pants stood and sang and danced to the god of beauty and the sun god. They lived in skin lodges; ate buffalo, elk, deer, rabbit, wild carrots, roasted juniper berries, elk thistle, chokecherries, and SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2006 37