Jay Meehan: Ecotage redux
Ryan Summerlin March 11, 2014
It was the mid-’70s in Woodland and weirdness lay upon the land. But, as Lebowski would later say, it really tied the neighborhood together.
We lived in a swaybacked farmhouse near the bottom of what the locals referred to as the "first" dugway. Our new friend, the just out of his teens and already-quite-quirky Bradley Pinkerton, stayed in a cabin a short ways upstream whenever he got a break from herding sheep.
Both a philosopher and a rather impressive sketch artist, Brad had become quite taken with our book, vinyl record and whiskey collections. Often, during his leisure stints down from the mountain, he would drop by and we would get on the outside of a few adolescent Scotches, put on some music, and, in the vernacular, "kick back."
This one particular day, now going on forty-years ago, has stuck to my memory’s ribs due to the fact that he came bearing gifts. The first was a beautiful ink-on-paper rendering of an imaginary "Summit County Psychedelic Cattlemen’s Association" logo mounted on a creatively tooled wooden plaque. Appearing to be an antique from another century, it was flat-out gorgeous!
It would be the second gift, however, that caused me to set that scene in the manner I did. Reaching once again into the weathered saddlebag he had brought in from his truck, he, with a somewhat exaggerated flourish, brandished a pristine, once read, relatively hot-off-the-press copy of "The Monkey Wrench Gang" by Edward Abbey.
We had previously discussed, over libations, Abbey’s earlier classic, "Desert Solitaire," but the fact that he had a new novel in the works was news to me. "This one’s different," Brad announced. Surprisingly, he was rather tight-lipped about the plotline, holding back on the verbal "Cliff Notes" version I assumed would be coming. I rewarded him by topping off his glass and vowing to return the book in the condition I received it.
Everyone, especially those with even the slightest connection to environmental activism, could no doubt rattle-off a similar yarn concerning the day they first met George Washington Hayduke, Seldom Scene Smith, Bonny Abbzug, and Doc Sarvis. Instantly, the loveable eco-saboteurs became part of the family.
You’d come upon someone with his or her nose buried in an already dog-eared copy and you’d nod your head. Your future trips to the Colorado Plateau and Utah canyon country would often be driven by the exploits of the MWG.
There was that pilgrimage to the Peabody Coal Company strip-mining operation on Black Mesa down on the Big Rez and the electric railroad that hauled the plunder to the Navajo Power Plant up near Page. We even pitched a tent for the night up in the Navajo National Monument campground where the gang met up after, so to speak, rerouting the train.
Side-trips to the bridges over the Colorado and Dirty Devil Rivers, the Lee’s Ferry put-in point for floating the Colorado (where the Gang first got together), Marble Canyon, Fry Canyon, Hite, and, down into the bowels of Glen Canyon Dam, to mention a few, also became part of our red rock forays into locations from the novel.
But I digress! What I really wanted to write about and what triggered this flashback to those four heroic misfits of fiction is that a full-length feature documentary film on the subject, "Wrenched: The Legacy of the Monkey Wrench Gang," recently screened in Salt Lake to a packed house of 500. Two hundred were turned away at the door. It’s set to screen again this coming Saturday in Moab.
Interviews with Abbey and the real-life muses he used to breathe life into his characters plus past and present environmental activists and groups such as "Earth First!" and "Peaceful Uprising" are used to propel the film’s quite-compelling narrative while asking the question "where does monkey-wrenching go from here?"
Filmmaker ML Lincoln has the usual suspects testifying in defense of non-violent, direct action, climate justice activism: Tim DeChristopher, Ken Sanders, Terry Tempest Williams, Charles Bowden, Robert Redford, Dave Foreman, Katie Lee, Paul Watson, Jack Loeffler, and, of course, those who informed the character traits of the Monkey Wrench Gang itself: Doug Peacock (Hayduke), Ken Sleight (Seldom Seen), John Du Puy (Doc) and Ingrid Eisenstadter (Bonnie).
Rage against the machine is also prevalent throughout. When Sanders dusted off the old quote "growth for growth’s sake is the ideology of the cancer cell" during the Q&A, it brought down the house.
One can only hope that films such as "Wrenched" and the recent "Bidder 70" can do more than "preach to the choir." They’re obviously going to attract the true believers. The question is "will the films nudge those currently on the cusp of activism into the movement?"
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.