Turning the Heartland

Turning Our Heartland Against Us 110911

Opinion by the Fringe


When a globalogist looks at the world, very likely she sees it in terms of areas of power and areas of resources.  The history of the modern world is the history of exploitation of resource areas by urban power centers. 

As a result, people in resource areas are typically harvested as a cheap labor force for their urban betters. 

History is busy with such examples.  The crofters of the Highlands of Scotland became virtual slaves to their British overlords because of the grass in the hills around them and the wool it would raise.  Coal miners in Wales and West Virginia became essentially slaves to coal companies, and had to be grateful for the jobs which turned their woods and dales into slag pits.  Rome did it, the Incas did, Britain, France.  The exchange is easiest to see from nation to nation, but also takes place from areas of resource to areas of power within nations and even regions.  Blood diamonds, dirty gold, and even coffee speak to the impact on local populations of having a marketable commodity.

We have water, cascading in pure streams past hills of breathtaking beauty.  We already live with the decisions of the past; yep the river has mercury, and the hills have been stripped of heavy timber, and some ill advised work was done in the meadows, but while newcomers and our urban betters blame those bad decisions on gold miners and loggers, it was the market for gold and timber which caused our people to stand hip deep in water or dodge flying tops as marginally paid labor for others, elsewhere, investors from the power hub, mostly.  As rural people, we are expected to work willingly for next to nothing, caretaking the resources in our hills for others. 

When Rome seized a place for its resources, it gave a couple of local people “citizenship-light” of Rome, meaning they couldn’t be killed so easily, and, should they ever go to Rome, they had to be let in.  Giving this mostly meaningless bestowal was enough to cause such people to work against their brothers on behalf of their betters.  The important lesson for us is that the locals who exploited their cousins were certain they were doing them a favor.  Eventually, they believed, their homeland could share in the glory that was Rome.  We have some of that here.  

And, those who don’t willingly do the work, who rail against the coal company, or against Rome, are seen as provincial, insular, uninformed. 

But, some people still get it.  When California needed timber to build a state, our loggers were heroes.  When it needed meat and butter, our ranchers and farmers did well.  When the Union needed gold, our miners were rugged adventurers after El Dorado.

Now, all the urban centers need is water.  They’ll keep our miners out of the rivers and off public land, they’ll malign our farmers to keep the calves from crapping on the meadow, and they’ll keep the rest of us from using the hills. 

In exchange, we get a heartland where owning a thicket of elderberry or a thatch of willow becomes a liability because some tiny varmint might live there, a place where having flowing water on your property means you work for fish.  We have two choices, the same two choices people in resource areas have always had: get cheerfully on board and make the best of it, or shut up.


The Forest Service will continue to destroy old cabins and close mines, and continue to refuse to let us benefit from their presence.  The muirists will continue to close our streams to dredging, lie about our history, and keep us from building in or using the hills.  The Yuba and the Feather but also the Little Truckee will continue to bring government scrutiny and lawsuits.  The more populations of marginal critters we have, the less we ourselves matter.  As the south gets thirsty, their bureaucrats will get more bold, they will bestow citizenship on some of us to watch the rest of us.  There isn’t much we can do; if we get too efficient at complaining, they’ll have the sheriff shoot us.  But, we don’t have to like it.


The trick is not to turn our anger and frustration against the hills and streams which are so woven into the fabric of our lives.  We still need to take care of the mountains which would support us, if they were allowed.  Still, when you’re walking in the fields and hills and come across a stream, remember, they want our water. 

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