gcrg logo
  Glenn Canyon Institute
  BQR ~ spring 1998

I just went to Moab for the meeting of the Glen Canyon Institute, the group that wants to decommission Glen Canyon Dam and drain Powell and let the Glen Canyon restore itself. What a dandy collection of young, old and ancient boatmen. What a collection of humorless environmentalists, mostly—thank God—drowned out by old boatman stories. Richard Ingebretsen, a Salt Lake doctor, who ran Glen Canyon as a Boy Scout, is President. Dave Wegner, the former king of all the Grand Canyon science studies that went on for years building up to the gceis, vice-presides; Jeri Ledbetter, former president of the Grand Canyon River Guides, treasures.
It's a curious amalgam: batches of us who saw it or saw part of it and cannot supervene the guilt of not having saved it; scientists; poets and writers. It has that amalgam of quixotry and hard science and far-seeing political realism that I find really appealing. They announced right out, “We're never going to get big, we're never going to diffuse into other issues, we're never going to get a Washington fundraising staff.” This is pretty irresistible to an ex-Audubon member, ex-Sierra Clubber, ex-Wilderness Societal.
Of considerable interest were the 20-year series of slides taken by an Escalante Canyon backcountry ranger who watched silt deposited, revealed by lake recession, removed by torrents. The gist is that, at least in the narrower canyons, restoration by reaming, recolonization, and re-draping of desert varnish is much more rapid than we perhaps expected.
Katie Lee sang to us—old Katie Lee that is approaching 80 and tough as nails and still a pagan. I bought her Folk Songs of the Colorado when I was about 19. Later I got her album, Love's Little Sisters (alternate title Katie Lee Goes Whoring), which is the whore songs of the nineteenth century. She did another one with a companion book called Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle, with real cowboy songs.
At the meeting, for the auction, there was a picture of her taken in a side canyon of the Glen, her standing, bestriding the whole slot canyon, back to the camera, nude in her perfection, arms upreached in reverence to the stone wilderness stretching out hundreds of feet and miles below her down to the Colorado, goddess of the rock; and when I looked into her eyes, there in the midst of that age-blotched face, they were there, the sharp blue eyes of the young woman in 1952, when she first saw the Colorado, gave up her Hollywood career, and headed to the river.
And I remembered her talking of how she fell in love with her boatman “as you're supposed to do,” and found myself in love with her, so I told her how much I admired her songs, what they had meant to me thirty years ago as a young boatman. She read from her journals from the 1950s, trip after trip down the Old San Juan, the Glen, trips with the legendary boatmen including a few who were there at the meeting and most that are long-dead; she read to us, and the young boatwoman beside me began to cry, and went out into the snow to try to calm herself, and went up to Katie with the small drifts on her shoulders and in her hair, and told her, calmly and in control at first, “You're so beautiful,” and soon was sobbing again saying, “You're so beautiful,” and running again out into the storm; and Katie telling us that from the river she had learned that Time is not an enemy; and watching a video of old Ed Abbey the day they applied the crack to Glen Canyon Dam, urging subversion and announcing handsomely from beneath his slouchy old hat, “We'll win. And in the words of my sainted old grandmother, ‘we'll piss on their graves.'”
It's $10 for students, $25 for individuals, and on up. Keen prizes and auction items. The best company.
Loose its chains; set our river free.

Earl Perry


big horn sheep