Monday, December 30, 2013

Edward Abbey, from The Monkey Wrench Gang

Parking in the shade and concealment of a group of pinyon pines, the gang took a walk up the nearest knoll, armed with field glasses.

Their view from the knoll would be difficult to describe in any known terrestrial language. Bonnie thought of something like a Martian invasion, the War of the Worlds. Captain Smith was reminded of Kennecott's open-pit mine ("world's largest") near Magna, Utah. Dr. Sarvis thought of the plain of fire and of the oligarchs and oligopoly beyond: Peabody Coal only one arm of Anaconda Copper; Anaconda only a limb of the United States Steel; U.S. Steel intertwined in incestuous embrace with the Pentagon, TVA, Standard Oil, General Dynamics, Dutch Shell, I.G. Farben-industrie; the whole conglomerated cartel spread out upon half the planet Earth like a global kraken, pan-tentacled, wall-eyed and parrot-beaked, its brain a bank of computer data centers, its blood the flow of money, its heart a radioactive dynamo, its language the technetronic monologue of number imprinted on magnetic taps. 

But George Washington Hayduke, his thought was the clearest and simplest: Hayduke thought of Vietnam.

Peering through the dust, the uproar, the movement, they could make out a pit some two hundred feet deep, four hundred feet wide, a mile long, walled on one side by a seam of coal, where power shovels ten stories high, as Smith had said, gouged at the earth, ripped the fossil rock from its matrix of soil and sandstone, dumped it in ten-ton bites into the beds of haulers. Beyond the first machine, in a farther pit, they saw the top of a boom, the cables and pulley wheel of another alien invader at work, digging itself in deep, almost out of view. To the south they saw a third machine, bigger yet: it did not roll on wheels like a truck, or on endless treads like a tractor, but "walked," one foot at a time, toward its goal. The feet were a pair of steel base plates resembling pontoons, each as big as a boat, lifted first one, then the other, on eccentric gears, rotated forward, placed won and the cycle repeated. Waddling forward, ducklike, the enormous structure of powerhouse, control cabin, chassis, superstructure, crane, cables and ore bucket yawed from side to side. Like a factory walking. The machine was electrically powered; as it proceeded a separate crew of men handled its umbilicus the power line, an "extension cord" thick as a man's thigh through which throbbed the voltage driving the engines in the powerhouse---enough juice, its builders liked to boast, to light a city of 90,000 humans. The cable crew, four men with truck, kept the line clear and also towed the transformer unit, mounted on an iron sledge, keeping pace with the dragline machine. Giant Earth Mover: the GEM of Arizona.

We are so small, thought Bonnie. They are so huge.

"What's that got to do with it?" Hayduke said, grinning at her, white fangs shining through the dust.

Why the brute has intuition, she thought, cheerfully surprised. Imagine. Him, intuition. Or did I say it aloud?

Back to the railway, through clouds of dust over the rolling road, they followed the stationary serpent with the peristaltic gut---the coal conveyor system, the endless belt. Hayduke watched every twist and turn, each wash, gully, gulch, ravine and draw, every copse of juniper and thicket of Gambel oak along the contraption's course, and made his plans.

The doctor was thinking: All this fantastic effort---giant machines, road networks, strip mines, conveyor  belt, pipelines, slurry lines, loading towers, railway and electric train, hundred-million-dollar coal-burning power plant; ten thousand miles of high-tension towers and high-voltage power lines; the devastation of the landscape, the destruction of Indian homes and Indian grazing lands, Indian shrines and Indian burial grounds; the poisoning of the last big clean-air reservoir in the forty-eight contiguous United States, the exhaustion of precious water supplies---all that ball-breaking labor and all that backbreaking expense and all that heartbreaking insult to land and sky and human heart, for what? All that for what? Why, to light the lamps of Phoenix suburbs not yet built, to run the air conditioners of San Diego and Los Angeles, to illuminate shopping-center parking lots at two in the morning, to power aluminum plants, magnesium plants, vinyl-chloride factories and copper smelters, to charge the neon tubing that makes the meaning (all the meaning there is) of Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Tucson, Salt Lake City, the amalgamated metropoli of southern California, to keep alive that phosphorescent putrefying glory (all the glory there is left) called Down Town, Night Time, Wonderville, U.S.A.

They parked for a moment close to the railway line. The tracks curved off in a great arc across Navajoland toward the power plant at Page, seventy miles beyond the horizon. The rails, clampled to cement sleepers, were set on a roadbed of crushed traprock. Overhead hung a kind of high-voltage trolley line suspended from the crossarms of wooden poles. Power shovels, conveyor line, railway: each component of the system required electricity. No wonder (thought Bonnie) they had to build a whole new power plant to supply energy to the power plant which was the same power plant the power plant supplied---the wizardry of reclamation engineers!

"See what I mean?" Hayduke says. "Simple as shit. We place a charge here, a charge there, unreel a hundred yards of wire, set up the blaster, put Bonnie's little white hands on the plunger---"

"Don't talk about it," Doc said. "The sensors...."

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