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  • Public Lands, Private Property, Sacred Space

    Guy Debord sees the core of the spectacle as the annihilation of historical knowledge — in particular the destruction of the recent past. In its place there is the reign of a perpetual present. History, he writes, had always been the measure by which novelty was assessed, but whoever is in the business of selling novelty has an interest in destroying the means by which it could be judged. Thus there is a ceaseless appearance of the important, and almost immediately its annihilation and replacement: "That which the spectacle ceases to speak of for three days no longer exists.”  Jonathan Crary [1]

    Among the schemings, positionings, and other-regulatings irrupting this political season, land use, “land transfer” and public lands management are hotly debated.   For example, as reported in Oregon mid-February (2017):   “Four Republican lawmakers want to study the idea of transferring Oregon’s federal public lands to state control.” [2]  Thus far in Oregon a soft landing compared to targeted, aggressive push in some other states (Utah, Wyoming, for example) — and in our country’s Congress.  Whoa. Who’s country? Embodied in this stand-off inheres “property” — partitioned, boundaried, available.  “Country” by contrast suggests a depth and an expanse physical and cognitive.  Spaces as places.  Who uses, owns, extracts, honors, digs, fences, and remembers?  With what degree of lasting, of sacred?

    Rock art is part of the land, of the stone, the earth, indeed, the country.  The indigenous marked places and boundless spaces. Rock art, Indian Land, bearing time, witnessing change, holding close, hardly novel.  Lizard abides.

    Images from an ancient lake-basin now called Abert in Oregon country: Lake Land 

    [1] Jonathan Crary. 2002.  Spectacle, Attention, Counter-Memory, p.463. In Guy Debord and the Situationist International: Texts and Documents. Tom McDonough, ed.  An October book,   Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  

    [2] “Bill considers moving Oregon public land to state control” by Zach Urness, Feb 16 2017  “Fifty-three percent of land in Oregon — 32.6 million acres — is owned by the federal government.”

  • Lake Abert: Spirits as Witness

    A place is deeper than the sum of its aspects.  My thought as I travel the 15 miles of US Highway 395 curving along the east shore of Lake Abert. 

    The indigenous peoples who inhabited the lakeshore adjusted the location of their dwellings as the lake expanse fluctuated over many millennia. Rick Pettigrew’s archaeological scoping reveals dynamic cultural change. He analyzes the surface archaeology – rock features and rock art - demonstrating sequential occupations linked with lake elevations. [1] 

    Today people – and birds – find the lakeshore uninhabitable. 

    “Under Oregon law, Lake Abert has no legal right to any water at all.”

    In 2014 for the first time is 80 years Lake Abert is - completely dried. [2a & 2b] A migration stopover for millions of birds that rely on the brine shrimp and alkali flies, the lake offered nothing.  Significant among many converging factors are the human manipulations and extractions of the Chewaucan River, the terminal lake’s only steady replenishment. 

    Beyond the reality of the region’s multi-year drought, is the strange story of the aptly-named River’s End Ranch, or perhaps better: Lake’s End Ranch.  Not only is the private ranch reservoir thick with 25 years of land- and water-use conflicts, the property owner’s dam-and-dike building in the 1990s ignored protection requirements and severely disturbed ancestral remains linked to four recognized tribes. [3]

    This year, 2015, looks to be the same to me during my mid-July visit to a few of the dozens of rock art sites distributed on the Lake’s east shore. [4]  Spirits emerge as witness as they have since time immemorial. And as they will when humans abandon the arid basin-and-range valleys as global heating accelerates.  [5]  

    [1]  Pettigrew, Richard M.  Archaeological investigations on the east shore of Lake Abert, Lake County, Oregon. Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon, 1985. 

    [2a] Lake Abert Dries Up, a 15-minute video from Oregon Field Guide (OBP), April 2014. This webpage also includes links to some source documents.

    [2b] Oregon’s only saltwater lake is disappearing, and scientists don't know why.”  July 3 2014. Oregonlive.

    [3] Klamath Tribe near remedies over disturbed ancestral remains.”  May 2000. Indian Country Today Media Network. (Note: the Tribes concluded an agreement in late 2001.)

    [4] East Lake Abert Archeological District, encompassing 6000 acres, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.   This greatly expanded the 1974 nine-acre “Abert Lake Petroglyphs” NRHP listing. 

    [5] Warming Pushes Western U.S. Toward Driest Period in 1,000 Years

    Photos: Spirits as Witness