Jay Meehan: The girl in the rock
November 16, 2017
There's this Bob Dylan lyric about a brief encounter he had with one of his cultural forebears, the highly iconoclastic Lenny Bruce. "I rode with him in a taxi once/Only for a mile and a half, seemed like it took a couple of months."
That pretty much is what I took away from a dinner a friend and I shared with the wonderfully outspoken and delightfully foul-mouthed Katie Lee back in the day. The occasion, an annual gathering of the Glen Canyon Institute, featured both those of the Monkey Wrench persuasion and those who were excited by the prospect but seldom got their hands dirty.
The quite soft-spoken yet earnest Martin Litton, river-runner of legend and iconic activist in his own right, sat to her right. We lost Martin three years back and now Katie, who passed November 1 at 98, has followed suit. I'm afraid to say we may never see the likes of either again.
My friend and I understood the hallowed space we occupied that evening. Both of our tablemates were legends of the highest order and to spend an hour or two in their company as flies on the tablecloth was an opportunity of a lifetime.
She had fallen for the eye candy that is Glen Canyon the first time her eyes alighted on the geologic strata. The Triassic and, most especially the Jurassic, will do that to you.
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It wasn't exactly my first rodeo with Katie. I'd owned a couple of her CDs and her DVD film "Love song to Glen Canyon" and, over the years, spent quality time with both. I had also caught her performance down at Ken Sanders Rare Books in Salt Lake.
But to sit across the table and look into those exquisitely wild-and-crazy eyes as she went off on the loss of "her" Glen Canyon to those damn dam builders in the Bureau of Reclamation proved illuminating. She had a way of staring you down to make certain you caught her drift.
A brash and early in-your-face activist for western rivers, Katie would just as soon blow up every dam on the planet but her crosshairs most often settled on that evil chunk of concrete that plugs the Colorado River just above Marble Canyon.
Yup, she kept the nucleus of her anger focused on Glen Canyon dam and the person she held most responsible for the sacrilege, Floyd Dominy of the BOR. He was the monster and it was he who had ripped out her heart and drowned it in a reservoir of disgrace.
It was truly love at first sight for Katie. She had fallen for the eye candy that is Glen Canyon the first time her eyes alighted on the geologic strata. The Triassic and, most especially the Jurassic, will do that to you. Then there was the manner in which the river massaged her soul. She found the ecstasy of the combination overwhelming.
The even-more pronounced beauty of the side canyons with their disarming intimacy obviously didn't do much to help her keep a handle on her newly-discovered river lust. She would have her way with it.
Floating through time engendered a rebirth. She bared her ecstatic self to the rock, no doubt exchanging silent vows in the process. Nightly campfires shared with her river-runner and photographer compadres added to her collective muse. Her guitar, becoming part and parcel to the whole, bared itself at least as often.
She had run the Grand Canyon the year before but the experience, although highly adventurous, didn't hold a candle to her life-altering idyll down that stretch of river just above. She felt truly "at one" with the landscape. She and the river and the stone were at once whole and holy.
That's why, when she first began hearing rumors that "they" were going to flood "her" canyon, she found the notion preposterous. Putting down the fork she had mostly ignored throughout dinner, she peered over her glasses and asked: "Why would you flood a cathedral?"
That, of course, brought to mind the old David Brower-driven Sierra Club ad and its wonderfully sarcastic and telling headline: "Should we also flood the Sistine Chapel so tourists can get nearer the ceiling?"
She knew she was singing to the choir but, no doubt, it did her good to repeat her preservation mantras as part of a healing process that stretched back to 1963 when her canyon began to fill. Her eyes moistened as the memories flooded back but the fight and the twinkles remained.
I sat with her at a dinner once.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.