The Prospect Turns 3, 2 011112
A Fringe Redux
Nobody liked our first “Prospect turns 3” because it was a downer and a rehash of bad news. I didn’t like it either, I was simply trying to be a responsible social commentator and it wasn’t fun for anyone; it won’t happen again.
Instead, I offer this better celebration of P3, and editor’s eye view of the inception of the mighty Sierra County Prospect.
Sierra County is it’s very own thing, composed of two different things, like fraternal twins but still joined at the head, the Yuba Pass, the watershed. There are people who work both sides of the county, and people with close relatives on “the other side” of the county, and folks who have lived on both sides, and these people stitch the county together, but there are still people on the West Side that would rather lose a toe than go to Loyalton, and people on the East Side who associate Downieville with legal problems and bad food, and that’s it. The Prospect considers itself neither East nor West because our editors and interest cover all the county except Verdi (who pretty much everyone sees as a little sliver of Nevada with bad taxes and no Second Amendment rights). That conjoined schizophrenia creates a dynamic that can create a strong synthesis, or can be damaging and divisive, depending on what voices are the loudest. Either way, the county has one heart, and we live or die together. It makes for interesting news writing.
Along with geographic lines, there are lines of heritage. For example, if your grandpa was a rancher and you are a rancher that makes you a genuine rancher. If your grandpa was a rancher and you are doing something less or something else, you’re a deposed rancher. If you come from somewhere else and you bought your first big ranch because you wanted to invest a few million somewhere you would have a hobby, you’re not really a rancher, but you’re still rich and if you wear a cowboy hat you can put your boots under the rancher table. There are all kinds of lines of heritage in the county, and in their purest and most entertaining form they are a kind of contest of “table of authorities”, also known as the “Didjaknow” game in which each combatant weaves into the conversation as many names of long dead Sierra County residents as possible; the one with the most and oldest dead connections is the victor and has just a little bit more right to be in the county. These lines of heritage control social currency the way rival gangs control street corners. They stem from historic events recent and mostly forgotten. For example, one line survives around which side of the Goicoechea Event you were on. Did you go to the fundraiser, or did you not? It just depends on what kind of cowboy hat your side wears; the hats for the other side, of course, are always black. Social currency accrues when bloodline and dead saint lines converge.
One example of social connectivity that the Prospect had to deal with was news. If you’ve never been on a motorcycle ride with Don Russell, you don’t get the news fresh very often, and Russell doesn’t ride much now because he falls over when he stops, so it’s pretty much too late for that line of connectivity. These boys have been riding together since the days when you could be sure a gal was clean if she smelled like vinegar. Russell has the kind of trust you only get from sitting around the glowing embers of a dying campfire, a little drunk, and revealing something you thought you’d never tell anyone, the kind of bond that forms when people face death together. Trying to get the old brothers of the saddle to cough up news is like trying to get a toddler to spit out grandpa’s heart pills. The Mountain Messenger’s been around for 158 or so years, and Russell’s been editor for more than half those years, and no digitalized upstart is going to shake those hoary foundations. I won’t pretend that the Prospect didn’t live on crumbs from Don Russell in the early days, or that we don’t still get important news from Russell, even though we spit in his hat by deciding to publish on Wednesday, a day before the Messenger comes out. Indeed, if you ask Russell he’ll be glad to tell you that the best writing in this edition of the Prospect is his (see Letter to the Editor).
Likewise the Sierra Booster, another initial competitor, has lines of social currency that go back to the Great Hal Wright, an editor and a commentator so powerful that the Booster still walks on his legs. The Booster has some things locked up, we’ve come to accept that. However, it was the idiosyncratic format of the Booster which convinced us that the Prospect could look like pretty much anything we wanted, and freed us to have the odd format we now enjoy. Like long time Booster readers, skilled Prospect readers can actually navigate the publication without suffering motion sickness.
This redux is not intended to redo last week’s P3, but there is no way to ignore how the news itself has sculpted the Prospect. The stated mission of the Prospect was to provide the information citizens need to be patriots, to protect the freedoms of others, to challenge the government’s impact on people. But the assault on rural people by power brokers outside the county has become impossible to ignore. Cell phones and computers don’t damage rural culture, they’re tools we use to maintain our way of life in the modern age. It’s the devaluation of rural people and the products of the land that threaten the rural way of life. The Dissenting Editor, in speech at least, welcomes some of the impending changes. But the Fringe Editor was born to the ranch life of the 19th Century, and mourns the loss of a kind of freedom some people will never know, the freedom to live by one’s own council, to make a living from sweat and brawn, from calculation and luck. The shape of the modern world doesn’t accommodate anything without experts, or any action without a grant.
In the early days of the Prospect we thanked our readers often, and occasionally reminded readers that without their eyes, the Prospect is nothing. That’s still true. During the last three years we’ve established our own lines of resources, friends we’ve made who send us information and news, much of which finds its way into Prospect pages. We intended to be primarily a community news source, and reviewing our pages, that is what we’ve become, an endeavor about, and through the cooperation of, the people of Sierra County, people who demonstrate their resilience and mettle simply by living the life they love in the face of social resistance. We’re about you.