"It is cloudy, it is cold and damp. It is melting, mushy and starting to dirty-up. It is not shattered and twisted and broken and smashed. For now. Rejoice in what you have. The Old Man calls again. A ha’penny will do."
— "Alamo" Dave Mueller, onetime local barkeep, trout guru, and rugby hooligan
So there I was, nowhere near frothing at the mouth but certainly in a moderate huff. That pleasurable vibe I often get from knocking back a shot glass worth of blended anger hormones had put me in familiar territory. For some reason, for me anyway, getting riled up every now and then can produce a rather decent "high."
Once again, I had target identification. The enemy sat squarely in my crosshairs. Who do they think they are, those who are plotting once again to violate my space? Well, this time "they" are the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) and the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT).
Believe it or not, plans are in the works to "improve" that stretch of Highway 12 over the Hogback between Boulder and Escalante. They wish to wrest control of the Scenic Byway away from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which currently has legal jurisdiction, acquire a 200-foot wide right-of-way, and proceed to straighten that puppy out.
"You’ve gotta be kidding!" jumped to number one on my personal karaoke set list. I mean, while they’re at it, why don’t they also straighten out that section of the Mirror Lake Highway between the Beaver Creek Inn outside Kamas and Pete’s Roc N Rye up in Evanston. What is it about the "character" of a place they don’t understand?
It was at this point of my adrenal-stimulated annoyance that I came across the above social-network posting from Alamo. As would be expected from one both erudite and ornery, Mueller’s muse seems to have remained at his beck and call. For a guy who runs a hardware store and an art gallery out of the same building just south of Chicago across the Indiana line, I found the prose both poetic and profound.
It had that "structure" thing down. In almost haiku fashion, the sense of place and time becomes quite evident. He’s not on Kauai, that’s for sure. But, as he’s quick to point out, he’s not in Haiti, either. Rather than get bent out of shape at our current lot in life, we should count our blessings. It’s much, much worse elsewhere.
He even incorporated a line from the old nursery rhyme "Christmas is Coming" as a "coda." "Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat/Please to put a penny in the old man’s hat/If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do/If you haven’t got a ha’penny then God bless you!"
It showed the way. When multiplied by millions of other donors to the Haitian-relief cause, even a ha’penny can do its part. It’s really very easy and it doesn’t matter how little you give, because everybody’s doin’ it. It’s all about jumping on the bandwagon. Alamo’s brief online paragraph had cut to the chase.
It gave me an idea. If I could convince just a few folks to donate a ha’penny’s worth of their time to investigate the impending brutalization of that iconic stretch of Highway 12 down in Garfield County, well, just maybe, the enchantment of that drive will not be sacrificed in the name of progress.
I mean, if one desires a generic roadway experience through canyon country, all they have to do is to take Highway 191 from Crescent Junction down through Moab, Monticello, Blanding, and Bluff. Highway 12 from Escalante to Boulder is the signature pathway of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. If there’s such a thing as a sacred stretch of road, this is it.
What, is it too narrow for trucks commuting between oil and gas leases? Do you think it would be keeping the faith to take control from the BLM and hand it over to the road-building bunch and their cronies at FHA and UDOT? I’m sure that presenting them with a 200-foot right-of-way for a road that currently ranges from 22 to 34 feet in width wouldn’t trigger an inordinate amount of lust on their part.
I really never should have gone to see "Avatar" after hearing about all this. And the fact that I’ve been wearing a tattered old "Hayduke Lives!" T-shirt around the house all day doesn’t bode all that well, either. Not that I’ll ever give up on the Hogback-widening issue, but, for the moment, I just may rejoice in what I have and ship off another ha’penny to Haiti.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and a free-lance writer with a background in commercial and community radio, among other pursuits. He has been a columnist and feature writer for various Park City publications going back to 1973.
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