The Tower

September 2, 2013 § 1 Comment


Sacred to the Lakota, America’s first national monument (thanks to Teddy Roosevelt), Devil’s Tower has nothing devilish about it at all—not until you’re driving away, late afternoon, and the shadows make it look like a giant thumb sticking up from the land. Even then, it’s not really devilish, but more suggestive of folklore. It prompted Tannaz to tell me a legend about—oh, Ucross rules, I’m not supposed to quote anyone here on social media without asking permission and she’s in the other building so you’ll just have to imagine the conversation.


In any case, the Tower you see in these pictures, when we were right on top of it in bright sun, looks like a fat Corinthian column with a nubbly top. A moat of silvery boulders sweeps around the base and hawks circle high overhead. The uphill, downhill, uphill path the state has made for tourists is a mile and a half, through a rocky forest frequently hit by lightning, judging from the number of burned trees surrounded by unburned ones. In the only visible evidence that it was Labor Day Weekend in Wyoming, the monument had a fair number of visitors, mostly families.


I was strongly reminded of childhood summers at Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, where our island house was in a landscape similarly rocky and piney. It made me feel younger but not so young that I dared scramble across the boulders. The sad thing was that none of the many children present were doing so. I prefer the French version of well-behaved children—running pell-mell through city streets and when they bump into you, a brilliant smile and a “Pardon, Madame.” These kids were just corralled.

The natural beauty didn’t produce the same beaten-by-joy feeling I had Saturday, but it was still very satisfying—the long drive through rolling and pointy hills, some green, some red, some gray-brown-gold, hills sprinkled with matchstick trees and the occasional tortured curl of ancient rock.

We drove through Gillette, coal capital of the world, and Hulett, where almost everything was “closed for the season.” Isn’t it still summer the day before Labor Day? We managed to have lunch in a little café with the obligatory animal heads on the walls, a souvenir case full of pastel china figurines, and big kindergarten tables. We browsed the one open-for-business antique store, which contained enough rifles and knives for a small private militia. This is an area where the town statue is of a man with a rifle in one hand and a pistol in the other, and where a few blocks later there’s a sign reading “Custom Slaughtering.”

I’m not so naïve as to think that Wyoming cattle, coal, hunting and fracking culture has nothing to do with me—it has everything to do with me and with all of us. I respect those who can kill what they eat, and who work to dig the guts out of the land for not nearly enough money. The culture of guns bothers me not because, as an effete New Yorker, I can’t imagine wanting one of those loud, nasty things, but because I can imagine it all too well. Gun laws are supposed to restrict the mentally ill from purchasing firearms, and while I don’t qualify to the extent that the school shooters we all hate do, I sort of qualify. I find it easier to imagine shooting a person than a deer.

But not today.

And as for coal, fracking, etc: expect the worst. But, again: not today.

Here’s a poem I loved in my youth, and still do.

A Season in Hell

A while back, if I remember right, my life was one long party where all hearts were open wide, where all wines kept flowing.

One night, I sat Beauty down on my lap.—And I found her galling.—And I roughed her up.

I armed myself against justice.

I ran away. O witches, O misery, O hatred, my treasure’s been turned over to you!
I managed to make every trace of human hope vanish from my mind. I pounced on every joy like a ferocious animal eager to strangle it.

I called for executioners so that, while dying, I could bite the butts of their rifles. I called for plagues to choke me with sand, with blood. Bad luck was my god. I stretched out in the muck. I dried myself in the air of crime. And I played tricks on insanity.

And Spring brought me the frightening laugh of the idiot.

So, just recently, when I found myself on the brink of the final squawk! it dawned on me to look again for the key to that ancient party where I might find my appetite once more.

Charity is that key.—This inspiration proves I was dreaming!

“You’ll always be a hyena etc. . . ,” yells the devil, who’d crowned me with such pretty poppies. “Deserve death with all your appetites, your selfishness, and all the capital sins!”

Ah! I’ve been through too much:—But, sweet Satan, I beg of you, a less blazing eye! And while waiting for the new little cowardly gestures yet to come, since you like an absence of descriptive or didactic skills in a writer, let me rip out these few ghastly pages from my notebook of the damned.

Arthur Rimbaud
translated by Bertrand Mathieu


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§ One Response to The Tower

  • Fanny Diehl says:

    I love your descriptions of Wyoming, I can see and feel and smell the places. You are a master of the written image.

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