Saturday, February 6, 2016

How to buy a historic winery cheap... if you're a movie director

 The Far Side of Eden dealt with many of the issues now playing out on a large scale in Napa Valley. Earlier related postings can be found in the menu to the right, starting in June 2015.  
                                                               The Prize
    John Skupny worked for Caymus Vineyards and there earned a reputation as an effective, straightforward, pleasant administrator, a blond Californian with a degree in fine arts and that rarity among winery managers, a sense of humor. Down there by the Napa River, a few stones’ throw from Inglenook, he had dealt with the irascible old Charley Wagner and his son, Chuck, and with Randy Dunn, fresh out of Davis and not yet on the heights of Howell Mountain, and had learned most everything about power cabernets, from production to marketing to the delicate managing of myth and reality.
     Skupny went to work for Francis in 1992, before the Inglenook winery was purchased. Niebaum-Coppola had some assets in addition to the vineyards that had come with the house, including a good winemaker, Tony Soter, of Spottswoode fame, a new press, and a determination on the part of the owner to develop a more elegant style of cabernet. Liabilities included limited working facilities—the wine was made where carriages had once stood, and it shared storage space upstairs with reels of film—and a lot of inky, older Rubicon that badly needed selling.
     Wine had to be moved through an old-boy network of distributors, the narrow part of the hourglass. The producer was on top and the consumer on the bottom, and the old boys in the middle didn’t like aged wine without stellar rankings by Robert Parker or Wine Spectator. Skupny’s challenge was to find someone willing to bet that Rubicon would improve and, until it did, to move the present inventory. Francis was gracious when Skupny brought the distributors and big names in the trade by the house, entertaining them, making them feel special. And Skupny pointed out that Niebaum-Coppola intended to increase the quality of the wine while cutting production, making the wine rare and raising the price at the same time.
     Production of Rubicon went down to two thousand cases, very small, but that meant another Coppola brand had to be invented to broaden the market. A wine consultant and the new winemaker sat down together and fashioned something from cabernet franc and merlot, and they called it Francis Coppola Family Wine. Skupny put it out for eighteen dollars a bottle, and it sold like crazy during a recession. They also decided to make a brand of zinfandel called Paternino, a tribute to Francis’s Italian grandfather. The winery had trouble with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms because there was to be a picture of the Statue of Liberty on the bottle, but the label was finally approved because, Skupny thought, the BATF got preoccupied with Branch Davidians down in Waco.
     At that point wine was small potatoes in Francis’s larger financial basket. But he told Skupny he wanted to be on first base if Heublein ever decided to sell Inglenook, the regal chateau standing out there to the east facing Highway 29, and they could move into the big time. Skupny knew Heublein’s history and all the baggage it carried in the valley, symbolized by the big, ugly storage facility built in front of the winery shortly after Heublein acquired it, spoiling the view from the highway. He knew Heublein could never recover from decades of bad decisions and that someday the corporation would have to unload a property also burdened by an unhappy family history.
      Niebaum’s great-grandnephew, John Daniel, a conservative pillar of rectitude, had been married to a woman known variously as beautiful, talented, and destructive. Her name was Betty, and she had made much of John Daniel’s life miserable. Her hatred of the winery contributed to his decision to dump the family heirloom in the sixties; in Daniel’s eyes, Heublein soon devalued the Inglenook name, which had been carefully made into a symbol of excellence, by producing a great deal of cheap wine and plastering it with that proud name. Daniel had refused to sell any wine that was not first rate, a standard that had prevented him from ever making a profit, and otherwise hewed to the line laid down by Niebaum in bygone times. After selling out he had to watch an invasive corporation use out-of-valley grapes to fill jugs—sacrilege, in his view, and a possible factor in Daniel’s subsequent suicide.
     John Skupny knew all this. He knew that the corporation would now like to unload Inglenook, but assumed the price would be unapproachable by an independent operator like Coppola, even with his occasionally massive cash flows. But Skupny, like others in the valley, dreamed of the old chateau’s passing again to “local” control, and feared its being taken over by another corporation more ambitious than Heublein.
     One night in 1994 he received a call from a friend in the “One night in 1994 he received a call from a friend in the business who told him, “Your worst nightmare is about to be realized. Heublein’s being sold to Canandaigua.”
     Spike Lee’s movie Do the Right Thing had just come out. Francis had seen it, and Skupny thought he was influenced by the notion of doing the right thing. Francis invited everybody to meet on his porch late one morning, to sit out there as if on the deck of a crenelated white ship sailing through a sea of vineyards, all very cordial and low-key. But the Heublein people were tight with information. If they agreed to sell, they would still demand the right to buy grapes from the prized Inglenook terroir, and that Francis replant the vineyard. Also, they would demand a lease-back on the ugly storage facility out front, to house their barrels.
     They wouldn’t come up with a dollar amount and wanted Francis to make an offer. He and Skupny thought they were being used to push up the price while Heublein shopped Inglenook around among other potential buyers. Francis came up with another strategy—preemption. The chief financial officer of Zoetrope, Francis’s company headquartered in San Francisco, part of the Coppola team, worked out how Inglenook would fit in with Francis’s other businesses, while the staff in Rutherford studied the inventories provided by Heublein. And the attorney who acted as Francis’s guardian had to be convinced that it was all a good idea.
     At last a purchase agreement was produced, and Francis wrote a check for a million dollars in the little house near the stable that served as his office. Skupny walked the check over to the big house so Eleanor could countersign it, then walked it back again. Francis was giddy, Skupny would remember. He asked if Skupny played poker, and when he answered yes, Francis said, “Good.”
     Skupny delivered the purchase agreement and the check to Heublein. The next day the guy called and said okay, and Skupny got into his car and drove over to Inglenook and stood out in the courtyard, under the massive façade overgrown with ivy, and called Francis on his cell phone. Skupny told him, “It’s yours.”

The first volume, Napa: The Story of an American Eden, is available at:
To order Napa:

Monday, February 1, 2016

Don Corleone's desk: 2

My second book about the valley, The Far Side of Eden, was published in 2002. What follows is a series taken from it that helps explain some of the issues and personalities that still bear heavily on the present. Earlier postings can be found in the menu to the right, starting in June 2015.   
(see also:   
                                      Grand Illusions                                                                                      

     Francis Ford Coppola and his wife, Eleanor, had already purchased the old Inglenook winery from the Heublein Corporation. “Francis brought in specialists from the films,” the  tour guide added, and had concept drawings for the staircase done by the production designer who worked on Apocalypse Now and The Godfather. The display cases for his wine, on sale, were designed by a movie conceptualizer, and those for his T-shirts by yet another.
     “There have been so many changes”—the removal of the modest fountain once out front to a nearby hillside, the parking of a red Tucker, star of another of Coppola’s films, in the second-floor gift shop until the finishing of the Memorabilia Room, a showcase of cinematic marginalia. Fifteen woodworkers had been brought in from Nevada just to build the winery’s central staircase and were living in the winery’s shell. The three-story modified Gothic edifice hummed.
     Out in the courtyard, men were putting the final touches on a concrete reflecting pool and pergola. Nearby sat the gunboat that appeared in Apocalypse Now, its plywood showing through flaking gray paint, to be redone and moved into some undecided public viewing space. Francis—it was the sanctioned reference for employees—had rechristened grand old Inglenook chateau “Niebaum-Coppola,” thus associating the early symbol of the valley’s ability to produce fine wine with the new owner’s unrelated vocation.
     This was to be symbolized by placing Don Corleone’s desk across the entrance hall from Gustave Niebaum’s oak-paneled Captain’s Room. Costumes from Bram Stoker’s Dracula were to be draped on mannequins arranged on the stairs, the guide added, to greet visitors who made their way to the second floor on risers made of poisonwood imported from Belize, where Coppola owned a resort.                                           
     The balustrades would be of Belizian jobillo, the carved fruit bowls on the newel posts of Belizian granadilla. The design would be “Europeanish,” said the master carpenter, an imposing bearded figure in new Carhartt coveralls. “We got the concept and sort of massaged it . . . We opted to do it all by hand because, when Francis looks at it, he wants to be able to see the craftsmanship.”                                          


     The tasting room on the second floor would be fitted with movie screens for a “multimedia tasting experience,” including a film about Niebaum-Coppola. There was more than one Tucker available for viewing, and a large trove of movie paraphernalia elsewhere on the property, ready to be brought forward when the exhibits needed refreshing. Visitors would pay to get a tour of the winery, and pay again for the tasting and for some souvenir from what promised to be a large trove of wine-related products, and some very distantly related.
       If the valley’s stunning, often jarring new architecture symbolized the remove between new arrivals and locals, so had the historical buildings when they first went up. Inglenook was, in contemporary parlance, a nineteenth-century steroid structure that once reigned over a gorgeous, totally rural landscape dedicated to the creation of one idealized product—wine—and modeled on Old World antecedents. Designed by a Vermonter, Hamden Mclntyre, who was not an architect but a talented builder with an eye for classical form, Inglenook had belonged to the wealthy Niebaum, seafarer and fur trader, and for more than a century had reflected the aspirations and vulnerabilities of a New World Eden.
     Now Napa Valley ranked second only to Disneyland in popularity among tourists. Most of the five million annual visitors were accustomed to spending more than five dollars for distraction, and at Niebaum-Coppola they would certainly have the chance. Selling T-shirts and wine was a common practice all over the valley—some other historical structures, notably Beringer, had also been burnished beyond the luster of their former selves—but at Niebaum-Coppola, née Inglenook, this commerce took on heightened intensity.
     A patina of the past appealed to visitors who wanted a brush with wine culture and a few mementos but none of the scruffiness associated with true agriculture. There were many devices in the valley for luring visitors—Sterling’s ski lift, Mondavi’s concerts—and winery tours had become increasingly important as avenues to further profits from direct sales of wine and clothing. Niebaum-Coppola was in a unique position to capitalize on another—the most—romantic California industry, movies.
     Inglenook’s intransigent stone and towering symmetry resisted this reinterpretation, however. The winery’s proportions had been carefully worked out as functional, if not beautiful, and the renovations struck some old-timers as incongruous. No wine was to be made here; the alterations all suggested crowd control, and the imperial reflecting pool would mirror a structure devoted as much to Hollywood as to Bordeaux.
     Francis told a newspaper reporter that in planning the retrofit he had tried to imagine what Gustave Niebaum would do, but Niebaum had allowed no tourism and no deviation from the narrow path of a great wine estate. He had strode through the winery in a pair of white gloves, searching for dirt, and the idea that this traditionalist would have allowed costumes from a melodrama to be placed on a theatrical central staircase, or would erect a movie prop in the shadow of hard-wrought Victorian sensibilities, was absurd. But today no one seemed to care.                                                  

    Francis and his wife, Eleanor, had already purchased and moved into Niebaum’s house when they acquired Inglenook. A lovely Victorian with Eastlake influences and a broad wraparound porch reminiscent of a ship’s deck, the house sat a quarter of a mile west of the old winery. Francis had wanted a retreat from the pressures of filmmaking, or so he told people at the time, and he wanted to make a little wine from his own vineyard, a reminder that his father had once pursued the same hobby in a Brooklyn basement. 
     In the Niebaum house the Coppolas entertained lavishly, using what they referred to as “natural” servers, people from the valley who dispensed food with a smile. Most of the arrangements were made by outsiders, and restaurants in San Francisco were often paid to come to Rutherford and prepare feasts, from Italian to Moroccan, and caterers brought in. Everything had to look just so, the same factotum system that surrounded the making of films prevailing at these events. More than one person was on hand to make sure the candles on the porch were lighted at precisely the right moment and spaced properly to assure “continuity” in every detail, and make sure everything seemed spontaneous.
    The pay was good, the labor unending and exhausting. Some locals were thrilled by the presence of celebrities like Madonna and George Lukas, Robert De Niro and Robin Williams. Anthony Hopkins once stopped by the kitchen before departing and, seeing some leftover fava beans, slipped into his role as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. The thrilled kitchen workers watched Hopkins disappear into the darkness and felt a tinge of fear even as they laughed at the idea of a cannibal in the house built by the conservative, strait-laced Niebaum.
    When Eleanor had women friends over, Francis insisted on being included, the center of attention, and the guests found him childish, if winning. His financial difficulties were often discussed by acquaintances and by staff. Francis used the house, with its ancient, overspreading live oak out front, to impress potential investors in movies and other enterprises. Strangers were immersed in family activities as if they belonged, Francis himself cooking the pasta, everything abbondanza: food, wine, talk, Napa Valley bounty of all sorts ladled up in a kitchen that had served the relatively meager needs of the Niebaums and their heirs, the “Daniels.
    The renovations in the house, like those in the winery, showed how much California and the world had changed in a century. Francis had used the old stable to make the first vintages of Niebaum-Coppola wine, which he called Rubicon, the beginning of the methodical transformation of a movie director into a founder’s spiritual heir, and after he bought the winery, too, he needed all the help he could get.

To order Napa:

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Death after folly at Malheur

                                                            LaVoy Finicum
                His accomplices are modern-day dupes
                of once-viable realities: limitless free
                land, and guns.
There's an aspect of the range that still exercises extraordinary influence on the imagination — six-shooters and those who wield them. Public lands have supported as much lawlessness as any domain in the West, but finding a contemporary gunfighter seemed to me an unlikely prospect in an age of universal jurisprudence. However, midway through the trip, I heard a story about a body found in the desert with its head resting on a red rock. Actually it was more a rumor than a story and involved several bodies instead of one, all rustlers caught too far out in the wilds to be brought to justice. A rock under the head had been the hallmark of a certain nineteenth-century lawman, and supposedly was used by his reincarnation, Ed Cantrell.
I began to hear other rumors about Cantrell: he could ride for days without eating and bring down a horse or a man at a thousand yards with a rifle; some personal misfortune had driven him to the brink of despair; he could quote long passages from Hemingway; he was near-deaf from practicing every day with a revolver; he had the eyes of a rattlesnake, and quicker hands.
I didn't believe them, of course.
East of the Wind River Range the plains break against the mountains in big, rolling swells. To the south lies the Great Divide Basin and a lot of BLM land with a sad, colorful history of creaking prairie schooners, dispersed tribes, and gaunt cowboys pushing famished animals toward what was left of the grasslands. Parts of the old Oregon Trail are still visible in ghostly meanderings across marginal grassland and broad drainages.
To the north of U.S. Highway 20/26 lie the Bighorn Mountains, a maverick thrust of the Rockies and one more tectonic wrinkle in mostly dry, difficult country. The road passes through Shoshoni and along Poison Creek above the Rattlesnake Hills, through Hell's Half Acre and the town of Powder River. From there, headwaters of the river of the same name flow north past the old Hole-in-the-Wall, once the roost of unrepentant badmen, and on up into Montana.
Powder River is little more than a Texaco station and a bunch of pronghorn antelope looking at it. The traveler can buy a few groceries there, as well as gas, and drink a cup of coffee at the table in the corner before continuing on to Casper. The table was occupied when I arrived by three men and two women in Levi's, who regarded me with more skepticism than my out-of-state license plates seemed to warrant. But then rustling is still a recognized vocation in this part of Wyoming, where lack of water means spreads of a hundred square miles and larger, from which livestock is often taken to slaughter in Colorado and Nebraska, against the owners' wishes.
When I mentioned the name Cantrell, the biggest of the men said, "What do you want with Ed?"
"I want to talk to him." I added that Cantrell's lawyer had given me a phone number but no one had answered there.
One of the women said, "Ed was drunk at the sheep fair. We didn't think we'd see him for a few days, but he came through this morning."
"They don't have that telephone no more," said the man. He got up and moved behind the cash register. "You have to use the radio phone."
He showed me how. The operator had to place the call and call us back; only one person can speak at a time on a radio phone, so conversations tend to be short and to the point. Mine was listened to with something akin to rapture by the coffee drinkers, while wind rattled the Texaco sign out front.
The voice at the other end was cautious, a bit hoarse, gentlemanly. "You've caught me unawares," it said, as if that was more than a little unwise. Then it said, "All right, come on out. What kind of vehicle are you driving, and how many are you?"
Not everything I knew about Ed Cantrell was rumor; there were some facts. He had shot a man to death in Rock Springs in 1978, during the wild days of the oil boom, when Cantrell ran that town's law enforcement agency, such as it was. The dead man was one of Cantrell's own officers. Cantrell was tried for murder and acquitted after a dramatic courtroom battle in which he demonstrated the speed of his draw. The publicity made Cantrell famous in the intermountain West, but afterward he could not get a job in official law enforcement. Since he had worked as a free-lance range detective before going to Rock Springs, he went back to the range, dropping out of sight with a rare collection of guns, telescopes, and experiences.
Finding him had not been easy. I had called a security agency in Rock Springs where Cantrell worked for a time after the trial. Ed was a good man, said the one who had hired him, but he liked to work alone. He gave me the name and number of a lawyer. The lawyer said he would check with Cantrell, but couldn't reach him. Finally a secretary came up with an old telephone number and mentioned the name of a ranch outside Powder River.
It belonged to a Casper banker — 170,000 acres, about half BLM land, north of the highway. The dirt road split and after ten miles split again, without houses or trees or landmarks other than fence posts with an occasional sheep skull on top. There were thirty thousand sheep out there somewhere. If a person didn't pay attention to directions he might find himself out of gas and luck, stared at by antelope down from the Bighorn Mountains to look for water, and maybe by Ed Cantrell.
A sheep rancher had once told a newspaper reporter that he hired Cantrell to kill some sons of bitches and that Cantrell had stopped the rustling on his range. "Rustlers aren't afraid of the courts," the rancher said, "but they're afraid of Ed." What they were afraid of was his gun. Most everyone in the West had one, but Cantrell supposedly used his.
From the top of a ridge in huge, empty country, I looked down on a lambing shed and a dozen old herders' wagons. The abandonment of the herding system in this part of Wyoming had meant greater loss of unsupervised sheep, which rustlers supposedly loaded onto trucks in remote canyons at night. In front of a little prefab house stood a pickup painted military green. Even the cottonwoods out back had the harsh radiance of an overexposed photograph. I drove down and parked. The screen door opened and a wiry man with a full white mustache appeared on the porch, squinting in the sun. His denim shirt was gone at the elbows, and unbuttoned to reveal dog tags on a metal chain. "I'm Ed Cantrell," he said, shaking hands tentatively. It seemed as if he didn't want the right one tied up loo long. "Come on in."
He sat on the couch and fished a Camel from his pocket, moving with the care of someone prodigiously hung over. Ed Cantrell had a recruit's buzz cut and a recruit's body, but his face looked every bit of its fifty-seven years. While we talked he never took his bloodshot, cornflower blue eyes off mine. The room was spare as a barracks, with a television set and copies of the Bible, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Gun Digest, and Guns and Ammunition on a shelf. Eleven rifles and shotguns stood propped against the wall.
"I travel with them," he said. "They keep me from being so lonely. I touch then, and, well... they've been with me a long time. They give me a little stability."
There were two .30/06's, a legendary Weatherby, a Remington 12 gauge shotgun he had given to his father, now dead. The others had come to him gradually over thirty years of law enforcement, starting as an MP in Germany in 1948. He had few other mementos. The afghan on the couch had been knitted by his mother in Illinois. On the wall hung a framed Grandfather Achievement Award.
I asked if he had to shoot people in his present line of work. "Why do you think I'm here? Not because I teach Sunday school. This man hired me because he wanted something done about sheep stealing. You have to make it in the world, and this is all I know how to do. The sheep that come out of this country go somewhere. They don't disappear. It's my job to find out what happens and stop it. The fact that you're talking to me north of Powder River doesn't mean I might not be sitting in Texas tomorrow. I follow a lead anywhere. There are some pretty hard people involved in this. If I stay more than two nights in a place, I get nervous."
He gestured toward the four walls. "This is a good place for me to rest. Some of these rustlers I know, but they all know me." The question had not exactly been answered, but then Cantrell didn't care for direct inquiry. You had to work up to the point with him and then sit through some profound silences. "I'm a renegade," he said. "You have to understand that. I'm more vulnerable working alone, but I'm also more effective."
"What would you say if someone asked you about bodies in the Red Desert?"
"I'd say I didn't know what the hell he was talking about."
His father was a preacher. Cantrell worked for the Indiana State Police after the war and came west in the early fifties, looking for space. He found it in Wyoming, where he assisted various county sheriffs and gradually learned the trade of range detective. The ranchers apparently liked his style. "I don't just work for rich people, but if you can't afford me, you can't afford me." That meant twenty thousand a year, plus expenses. "This rancher is a good Christian man. I told him I wouldn't sign a contract. If I didn't like the way things were going, I'd roll my bed and move. I don't have any strings on me."
One of his two sons was killed by a drunk driver, Cantrell said, about the time Rock Springs boomed. He was offered the job of police chief, and accepted, to get away from his own misery. "It was the biggest mistake of my life."
The town had tripled in size, with thirty bars and reportedly twice as many pimps. "It was a zoo. People were lined up outside the bars twenty-four hours a day. The police would go in and get beat up and thrown out onto the street. We got rid of the pimps first. You know what a pimp looks like? Big floppy hats, big cars. I'd go up to one, and say, 'You know me, don't you? You know what my job is, don't you? You're not going to be here after today. I'm going home to dinner, and if you're still here when I come back I'm going to start shooting at you.' "
He did not get along with his undercover narcotics agent, whom Cantrell suspected of pocketing the contraband. One night, sitting in a squad car outside the Silver Dollar saloon, the two men fell into an argument, in the presence of two other cops. Cantrell shot the narcotics agent. His name was Mike Rosa and his death galvanized a city already charged with corruption and unbridled, murderous behavior. Cantrell said he shot Rosa in self-defense when he saw him reach for his gun; the two cops remembered it differently. Cantrell was in jail for three weeks before the ranchers of eastern Wyoming came to his rescue. "I had no money. They flew over from Casper," and hired an attorney to defend him. "The bond was five hundred thousand and those fellows just happened to have it."
The prosecution claimed that Cantrell had threatened to kill Rosa before; the charge was murder, since Rosa had no gun in his hand when it finally happened. The defense claimed that Rosa had reached for his gun, after cussing Cantrell, and that Cantrell flat outdrew him. "I had to demonstrate three times in the courtroom," Cantrell said.
He showed me now, reaching for an imaginary pistol in an imaginary holster and aiming at my head. "Can you imagine the pressure? After the first draw, you could see the jury relax, because they saw I was fast enough. Then they understood what had happened that night, and they all sat back and crossed their arms.''
Cantrell was acquitted, but as part of the bond deal he had to be out of Sweetwater County within four hours. "Four hours! Let that sink in. I had just bought a corner lot and house. I went back and threw my camping gear in the back of the Bronco and took off. I won't say my wife wasn't supportive — that would be cheap, and she's not here to defend herself " — but they had lived separately ever since. "I've paid a terrible price for what I am," he said. "I don't run with anyone, I don't trust anyone. It goes with the territory."
There was something appealing about Cantrell that went beyond the hangover and the pain in the eyes and the anachronism — a vulnerability associated with age, and isolation. Like so many Westerners he grew up in Webb's "humid regions," shooting squirrels out of leafy green trees and imagining an open, arid frontier. He had become the dream of every ten-year-old boy who went into a Saturday matinee between 1920 and the time television killed the Western.
     "I want to tell you something about what my life is like."
Cantrell was driving his pickup toward a sheep camp, up a narrow winding road. He sat forward, hugging the steering wheel, watching the ridgelines, looking more like a Prussian artillery officer than a detective, with his mustache and gray crew cut. The immense landscape, undifferentiated to the urban eye, took on subtle variations in color: pinks and pale lavenders, and dark shadows on the edge of sunlight.
An unlit Camel dangled from Cantrell's lips. He wore no gun, but several were packed in the truck, which growled unnaturally, trailing water from a leaky radiator. He preferred a horse to pickups or all-terrain vehicles because a horse was quiet and did not raise a cloud of dust.
"From time to time I like to drink a few beers," he said. "I get a little unconscious. There's a bar in Shoshoni I go to. The owner's a friend of mine. I know the people there, they know me; I feel comfortable. I can sit and listen to the juke box and ogle them ole dried-up gals, like I like to do.
"One night this guy comes in and sits up at the bar. He's a cowboy-looking guy. He stares, which starts to bother me. Then he comes over and says, 'I know who you are, and I know you're after me.' Well, he's drunk, and I'm not. I say, 'I never saw you in my life.' He keeps on pushing. It gets heavy. I say, 'I don't want to hurt your feelings, but I never heard of you, and I'm not after you.'
"He goes out into the parking lot and comes back with a pistol under his jacket. I can see it. He sits up at the bar and keeps turning around and looking at me. Finally I tell the waitress to call the sheriff and get him out of there before I blow this son of a bitch off his stool. It turns out —now get this —that he's the former son-in-law of an old friend of mine. He beat up my friend's daughter, and my friend told him he was going to take out a contract on him with Ed Cantrell. Only trouble was, he never told me about it."
He laughed at the irony. "No matter what I do, I'm in a bad position." He added, almost wistfully, "People use my name." I had the impression that a multitude of arguments hung out there in the middle distance, waiting to be resolved.
"I'll tell you a story. I was riding down the road and saw this fella pushing some cows. I stopped to watch. He rode up and said, 'I know who you are, you son of a bitch! Don't screw with me,' and rode off again. His daughter was roping, so I drove over and asked her what was wrong with her daddy. She said, 'Who are you?' I said, 'I'm Ed Cantrell.' And she said, 'You're what's wrong with him.'
"I went to my boss and told him about it. 'I want you to know the situation,' I said, 'because if that son of a bitch talks to me that way again, I'm gonna blow him out of the saddle.'"
The road looped and rose some more; evergreen appeared — a sign of moisture. "You never know when somebody's watching you in this country,'' he said. "That's why I thought you might want to drive your own vehicle." He carried two sets of binoculars, one of them for night work, and a telescope on a gun stock. "Every time I look through it, I wonder if somebody's looking at me. Don't worry, this isn't the right time of year to get shot."
The right time was autumn — slaughter season for lambs, and maybe a human or two.
"Why hasn't some rustler already shot you?" 
"I've often wondered that myself."
After reflection, he said, "It's dirty, boring, tedious work, but I keep coming back to it. I've laid up on these ole ridges many a cold night. I like to ease into a place, and stay a few days, watching. You get where you know who the people are, or you have strong suspicions. It's a close-knit bunch here, old-timers. They learned rustling from their dads. It's so isolated they get a bunch of sheep out there and shear 'em so there's no paint brand. All that's left is the earmark. They take 'em to another state and change that. It's easy."
The sheep camp consisted of a knockdown corral, a beat-up trailer, two saddled horses, and two Mexicans standing warily by, waiting to see if I worked for Immigration before they bolted. The ranch foreman came out and shook Cantrell's hand. He was Chris, a born-again Christian who worked as lay pastor of the Home of Our Shepherd nondenominational church in Powder River as well as ranch foreman. He invited me into the trailer to have coffee with an Anglo herder while Cantrell dipped water from the spring for his radiator.
"Ed's made a difference," Chris said. "Last year we lost three hundred sheep, down from a thousand. This year we haven't lost a one."
A thousand sheep were worth sixty thousand dollars, not counting wool and lambs. The economics of rustling made sense, when several hundred sheep could be packed into one cattle truck.
"Just having somebody on the place helps. That, and Ed's name. The price of lamb has turned some honest ranchers into thieves. It's a hard old way. Now Ed makes 'em think. If he catches you, will he arrest you or will he shoot you? I wouldn't want him to catch me rustling sheep."
"He's pretty quick," said the herder, watching Ed through the window. The herder wore a leather holster for his Skoal tin, above greasy chaps. "He can stand up and spin around like that." He snapped his fingers. "He can look right through you and make you feel like you've done something wrong." He sucked coffee through his mustache. "You'll be out working in the middle of nowhere, thinking you're all alone, and you'll turn around and there'll be ole Ed."
The murder trial in Rock Springs had raised both men's estimation of Cantrell. "After his arrest," said Chris, "he never tried to hide his face or anything. And it was hard on ole Ed."
On the way back down the mountain, Cantrell told me he had created his own job security. "I'll run the rustlers off this place, and they'll go next door. Then that rancher'll hire me. The winters are tough, though. You really feel 'em when you get older."
He planned to retire in three years, he said. He wanted to buy a little house on a quiet street in Casper and maybe help raise his daughter's son. He hoped people would let him be.
He stopped on the hill above the house, then rolled the pickup slowly down. He took a worn black holster from beneath the seat, and strapped it on after he had gotten out of the truck. He unloaded the revolver, a .38 with custom grips made of mesquite. "People are too rigid with handguns," he said. "You have to be fluid, and use the same motion every time you reach for it."
He moved his hand in circles, like a conjurer, starting at the bottom of the holster and coming up with the pistol. "It's a muscle-mind thing." He repeated the process twice, pulling the trigger each time. Snick.... snick.... "If you do something once, it's one thing. If you do it ten thousand times, it's something else. You don't stab. Just reaching for the pistol can get you into trouble — you break the motion and have to start again. This way I can begin to pull the trigger as I come up to here."
"We're talking milliseconds. You drop your shoulder a little and shoot from the hip. It's the opposite of the FBI crouch, which is supposed to help your balance but really's bullshit because it takes too much time. My way, you don't have to absorb any lead. Don't shoot for the body, it's a waste of time. If you have to shoot him, shoot him in the face."
He turned to me, five feet between us. "This is knife range. Now the natural tendency is to shoot low. I have special grips, to level the gun when my finger's on the trigger. Automatics are especially bad because you have to bring them up. I can shoot with just the feel of this gun. That's why I like a heavy six-inch barrel. I shot Rosa with a six-inch barrel."
"Right between the eyes."
He reloaded and holstered the pistol, and turned as if to go into the house. Suddenly the gun was in his hand again, cocked, his wrist pressed against his hip. I looked at this slight, wiry man with his very blue eyes, and saw in them a natural, utterly impersonal force that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. The gun went off with a terrific roar, throwing up dirt a dozen feet away. The bullet had nicked the upper edge of a red rock the size of a half dollar.
"Shooting high today," said Ed Cantrell.
                                                       Reprinted from:                                
To see the initial post go to:                                  

Friday, January 22, 2016

Even the Interior Dept. rep was naked

       It was all for the cause of wilderness. Really.                                        
 Subversion on the Uncompahgre (cont.)

  Water was a problem on this high plateau in western Colorado. Most people had brought their own, and a plastic container for emergencies sat next to the snake-oil table, but there were no rivers or streams within striking distance, just a spring a mile away, down a trail strewn with hot, dusty people in various stages of undress. A tiny pond had formed at the mouth of the spring, and people stood in the weeds and in the shallows, their bodies stark in the sunlight.
   I took off my clothes. The pond looked like a bio-peptic soup but proved to be icy and wonderfully refreshing. A schoolteacher from Reno was washing her friend's hair with biodegradable shampoo. She introduced me to Wildcat Annie, a robust woman ruddying herself with a towel, who worked for the BLM. Wildcat Annie was an alias she used in what she considered her real life. She worked as an outdoor recreation planner in a Western state but asked me not to mention which one, since belonging to Earth First! could cause her problems in the workplace.
    "Morale has plummeted since the 'eighty elections," she said. "The BLM has become a lot more political. There are less people at the top who have worked their way up. Now even the associate state directors are being appointed. They're changing the agency. She had given Earth First! three thousand dollars, an impressive piece of her salary, to combat the practices of her employer — e.g., chainings; tolerating trespass by ranchers, timber cutters, and pot hunters; and ignoring environmental regulations. "Right now I can do more good staying than leaving," she said. "At least I can see what's going on, and try to change things."
I got dressed and walked back to camp. The Santa Cruz contingent had hung a poster on the big aspen. "Oppression of wilderness is the same as oppression of people," it began, and went on to champion feminism and equate civil rights with wilderness values — a blatant effort to improve the EF image.
The professors were making other efforts to enlighten. The chanting session had been scheduled by Santa Cruz himself to counter less uplifting behavior by the Montanans and other rednecks. At dusk a steady drumbeat drew me into the shadows, where he had constructed an Indian medicine wheel out of fir branches, moss, a rock, a flickering candle, a plastic bowl of water, and four woodpecker feathers. He sat cross-legged before it, holding the drum.
"Choose the sign that suits you best," he said, as a dozen of us settled in a circle. "It's appropriate to begin with the Air Chant." He beat the tom tom, and began:

Fly like the eagle, flying so high,
Around the universe, on wings of pure light.
Hey hunga ho hunga hey yung yung.

We repeated it several times, holding hands and swaying. We chanted the Fire Chant. Before the Water Chant, Santa Cruz said, "Water is a little bit sensual. You may squeeze hands."

The earth is our mother, 
We must take care of her.
Her sacred ground we walk upon 
With every step we take.
Keya wale lenya lenya ma mate 
Hi yano, hi yano, hi yano.

Guitars were warming up in the meadow. A few verses of extemporaneous scatology reached us, deepening the mood. "Sage is a purifier," Santa Cruz was saying, holding some in a dish, which he tried to light with a match. "Usually I have a propane lighter."
He passed the dish around. "As you breath in the smoke, let all tensions go. Let the hurts go. Let today go. Let tomorrow go. Let those intellectual pretensions go. Stop trying to figure out intellectually how sage can purify you and let it work on your energy."
He handed the tom-tom to the widow in a serape. "Say a prayer and send it along with four beats of the drum."
Her prayer was silent, but the young man in camouflage said, "Heal the earth, and stop the oppressors."
"Nourish Mother Earth," said the journalism student from Columbia University.
Thump, thump...
I was passed the drum. I prayed silently that this would soon end, but it wasn't answered. Santa Cruz launched a prayer of stunning duration: "Grandfathers, help us. Some of our brothers have become confused." He meant the redneck environmentalists. "Others do not know how to treat the Earth Mother. Help them understand that the Earth Mother sustains us. Some of our brothers and sisters have attacked the Mother. They have cut her trees and torn the rocks out of her. Help them see the error of their ways, Grandfathers. They are many, and we are few..."
The mosquitoes were many, as well. It was getting cold. Santa Cruz was breathing now, great sonorous exhalations we had to emulate. This was the man who had joined Earth First! for fun. "Feel your power," he moaned. "Feel it flowing through your inner selves. Feel it spreading around the circle. Feel it flowing back inside you. Now we're going to get physical."
We danced around the fire wheel. The chanting switched from Native American to Japanese, then back to English. "You are an aspen tree," Santa Cruz told us, when we came to a halt. "Close your eyes and wiggle your fingers, feel the wind in your branches. Feel the animals around your thick trunk. Sense the deer running past, the wolverine digging a nest at your roots, the gophers eating — mostly forbs and sedges. Feel the sap running into you. Feel the water deep in the earth. Sense the glimmer of the stars. Sense the moon that will soon be rising..."
I stumbled off into the darkness. I had yet to meet the redneck environmentalists, but by now was firmly on their side. A big crowd had gathered around the fire in the meadow. Figures drifted between the light and the collective domicile of cars, vans, and tents tucked into the woods. I could see a wilder array of caftans and elaborate hats, and a woman with a white dove tied to her shoulder. A rail-thin figure in handmade leather boots, with beads and leather tassels, circled the group like a coyote, beaded leather pouches and a broad-bladed knife on his belt. The line between reality and parody has always been thin in the West. The real cowboy becomes the drugstore version with ease. Easterners take up Western crudeness like college degrees; mountain men buy their cocaine and TV Guide in shopping centers.
The Montanans were raising hell, off by themselves. I followed their shouts of "Rednecks for wilderness!" to a bunch of buckskin and leather, even Cat hats, gathered round an illegal campfire. Steam rose from a pot of vegetables. The women were not cooking but drinking beer and singing raucous songs and eating home-salted salmon out of a Mason jar.
"What's the slant of your book?" one asked, as soon as I had stated my business.
"I don't have a slant." 
"What do you know about public lands?" asked another. "What do you know about Montana?"
"Do you like to fish?" 
"Do you like tequila?"
What began as a fight became a determined effort to make me understand the beauty and importance of Montana, both considerable. "Montanans are different," one kept saying. He was runty but fierce, with a black beard. "We're conservative, determined, and we're going to stop the bastards from killing the griz and destroying the most important ecosystem left in America. Period!"
"Fuck Senator Melcher!" someone shouted, and the others took up the theme.
The Montana women sang of the sexual inadequacies of their state's congressional delegation; the men shouted "Drunk and sensitive!" in an attempt to improve their image with the rest of the camp, but that soon changed to "Drunk and ignorant!"

                                         (Dave Foreman)
  Walking back to the van, I passed a couple intertwined in the bushes, their clothes in a puddle beside them. The fact that they made love in the cold was not a as remarkable as their uninterrupted laughter.
  The next two days ran together in a stew of deep ecology, green politics, ecotage, and dwindling food and water. The Santa Cruz statement was ripped down, probably by the Montanans. Phrases drifted up like ecological blimps from gatherings on the grass: glamour species, bio-prostitute, Civil Disobedience (CD), Direct Confrontation (DC), animalist, specist. A specist was someone tolerant of the extinction of lesser species in the interest of glamour species like griz and woodland caribou; an animalist condemned owning and eating animals, but sinned against plants by owning and even eating them. A bioprostitute performed biological assignments for the FS and had to be subverted either through CD or DC.
There was hard DC, and soft DC. Soft DC was planned in Yellowstone later in the summer, when EFers would appear in the park hotel in grizzly costumes and sit around the lobby eating huckleberries. A large woman from Oregon offered to make five bear costumes if EF would send her the material; it would be made of synthetics, admittedly a mineralist action with animalist and specist overtones but directed toward bio- and other prostitutes in the machinist continuum.
I bought a copy of Deep Ecology off the snake-oil table. The two authors were present, taking part in workshops. I read during the heat of the day, propped against an aspen. The book was a compendium of thought on the subject, most of it from the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, who coined the phrase ecosophy — a process through which profound questions could be put about nature and man. The phrase deep ecology had a pedantic ring; but the notion that humans must practice self-denial, and that the human fate was directly related to that of grizzlies, and even spiderworts, was compelling.
A community of concerned people had become essential to survival, according to the book. "In a society famous for dystopian visions," the authors wrote, of ours, "ecotopian visions present affirmations of our bonds with Earth."
I found one of the authors, Bill Devall, during the gathering for mass guerrilla theater. "The agencies that control the public lands are anthrocentric," he said. "It goes back to Gifford Pinchot, who linked them to development. Muir originally thought of the national forests as preserves. Any change at this point to biocentrism cannot be evolutionary." We were talking revolution.
I later saw him flapping his arms and cawing, taking part in a communal game, and asked if he was a crow.
"A raven," he said, "a very different proposition," and flapped off.
The homogenization of America has been postponed by the existence of public lands, where people can pursue lives truly different from those elsewhere, or at least pretend to. There were some play-actors here, but there were also people dedicated to slowing down the systematic diminishment of the West.
"We're a tribe," Foreman told the gathering that night. "We have our own rituals, demigods, shared language, and devils. We gather once a year to get to know each other, to plan events and exchange genetic material. Basically, we're Neanderthals. We've been in a ten-thousand-year eddy, but we're about to get back into the mainstream."
Earth First! was different, he said; it would fail in the end, but the battle was worth it. He cited Aldo Leopold's vision of the circular process of death and regeneration. "We shouldn't fear death, but welcome it when it comes. Only then will we have freedom. Modern man is obsessed with living forever."
He picked up a fistful of Uncompahgre dirt and trailed it on the breeze. "This is our immortality!"

More press on the Malheur Refuge occupation:
 And : 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Where's the rest of the enviro tribe at Malheur?

      In the old days you couldn't keep them away.

                                               Subversion on the Uncompahgre
With Edward Abbey I had met the priest of the environmentalists back in Tucson; a related ceremony itself took place two months later, on the Uncompahgre Plateau, dry, remote country in southwest Colorado. Uncompahgre is Ute for "red water springs" and refers to the higher, snowy ranges in the same national forest. Tourists are still something of an occasion along the plateau's western edge. Those I saw on the eve of Independence Day wore shorts and headbands and drove motorcycles or beat-up Saabs and other foreign machines piled high with camping gear and water jugs. They took a dirt road looping up onto the Uncompahgre, strung out for miles in a kind of migratory homing. I followed them, bound for the annual convention of something called Earth First!, ecotagists of record.
Our destination was a high meadow strewn with blue lupine. Cars and vans filed in and parked in the shade of aspens; dust rose from the groups gathering for what had been advertised in the EF newspaper as "personal interaction and communication" in the interests of the ecosystem. Anyone could attend, for free.
The high, cool air was no match for the July sun. The array of head coverings was devoid of those imprimaturs of Western values, Cat hats and cowboy hats, and rich in misshapen straws with feather-stuffed bands, camouflage deerstalkers, boating caps, upside-down canvas buckets, floppy-brimmed bush hats, miners' caps, and weathered tweed anomalies.
SAVE THE EARTH FIRST! read a banner strung between two big aspens, above the working seminars on nonviolent prep and media manipulation. Participants were the friends of many rivers, judging by the messages on their T-shirts. One shirt, worn by a young woman with a knife in a beaded scabbard and lace-up boots with studs the size of silver dollars, said "Eat the Rich."
Brightly colored tents were going up among the aspen. There were stacks of canned food, beer, and backpacks, scattered chairs and tables, children playing in the mottled sunlight, eating Doritos and live-culture yogurt and drinking pop, all the makings of a grand July Fourth picnic. License plates from every Western state, as well as Ohio, North Carolina, Maine and Australia, passed in the haze of drifting dust. 
I made supper. The lushly darkening sky of the high mountain West was reflected in the lupine out in the meadow. Later, a bonfire drew everyone into its bright radius; the night bloomed with serapes and suede jerkins, embroidered coats, great hoods, turbans, and slouch hats. The moon rose. Two guitars spoke to each other across the fire pit, through the skunky haze of sinsemilla. I moved around, trying to find out who made up the ranks of EF, and found to my surprise a physics teacher from Houston, a biologist from Hawaii, an instructor in wilderness values from Yosemite, and an astronomer from southern California. "You basically get the professionals," this last explained, "and then you get the hippies."

The Fourth broke hot and clear. The steady beat of a tom-tom announced the beginning of orientation in the meadow. Dave Foreman, a hulking New Mexican in a red beard, told the assembly, "Five years ago when we founded Earth First! in a bar in Sonora, we never dreamed it would come this far. We've become a national and an international force. Deep ecology, and biocentrism, is more than loving aspens and butterflies. It requires effort, and courage. If it isn't a driving force in your life, it doesn't count."
Foreman introduced a teacher of ecology from southern California who was wearing a red baseball cap and hiking shorts. The teacher told us, "I see two circles working here. They are interconnected, and they fluctuate. The first is everyone around this fire pit. It feels good. But there's another circle.... Take yourselves analogously out of the big environmental group networking, and put yourself here. That calls for a different response — a deep responsibility, not the same thing as attending a workshop." He leaned over and picked a spiderwort. "The responsibility for picking a flower — I haven't killed it because it's a perennial — is important.
"The second circle is the things that grow here — the flowers and aspens. It would be irresponsible not to respond to this circle, a response you can't have in San Francisco, or lobbying in Washington, D.C. Let the circles interact. Deep ecology is more than direct action."
I asked the ecology teacher later about deep ecology, and a message I thought ran counter to EF's ethic of direct action. In fact, he said, there was a sharp division of views in the meadow. The "redneck" wilderness advocates preached ecotage, but the college professors favored a more orderly approach. "Some of us see ecology as the whole earth and its interrelationships. We have to think deeply about the state of the human race and other critters."
Earth First! was the first organization of its kind to look at all the questions, he added, and to try to rise above the needs of man alone. "We're dealing with the here and now. Thoreau started off as a transcendentalist but went beyond it and saw himself as part of the whole. He saw that man had to get away from manipulating the earth for his own ends, and tried to impress that upon his fellow Concordians. They took him for a kook, just as some would look at the people here."
I finally caught up with Foreman. He was a busy man but took time to sprawl in the shade of an aspen. "The West is under absolute assault," he said, "and nothing's stopping it. The dead flesh of the livestock industry has begun to stink, but a bigger threat is road-building in roadless areas that are the real wilderness today — not those created by Congress, full of backpackers, but the unofficial wilderness."
These wild lands lay in remote sections of the national forests; bulldozing made them ineligible for consideration as official wilderness later. Worse, roads let in people with guns and chain saws. "The roadless areas are all that's left of old-time America. Developing them will destroy the ambience of the West, the lifestyle and the wildlife habitat. We're trying to stop that by the only means left."
He excoriated the Sierra Club for going hat in hand to Congress and requesting a couple of million more acres for wilderness designation in the West, when EF demanded 14 million new acres. "The Wilderness Society and Sierra can't sue on every timber sale and seismic permit, so we take direct action. We try to differentiate between sabotage and vandalism. We try to be thoughtful, deliberate, responsible. If you wipe out a snowmobile, say, for defiling landscape or running down animals, you think about the distance from a road and the age of the man riding it who has to walk out."
Foreman's great-grandparents had homesteaded in eastern New Mexico. He called himself a desert rat, but his voice rang with the conviction of a man who had stood up before many a gathering, in settings far more conventional than this one. Foreman had dropped out of mainstream conservation after working for the Wilderness Society on the Roadless Area Review and Evaluation process, which was still going on. He gained a deep pessimism about the trading of roadless areas for designated wilderness areas, and about the ability of conventional environmental groups to deal with development.
"The Forest Service has become much more sophisticated, with good PR and 'people process.' We're the last line of defense." He seemed resigned to the inevitable demise of the West, but not without a fight.

A conflict of workshops developed between Guerrilla Theater and Toxic Waste; Foreman wisely settled it by allowing both to be conducted. Chanting would be done at sunset, next to the tepee on the hill. Two sweats would be held in the sweat lodge that day, and a spiritual sweat the next. Earth First! T-shirts were available for a price at what Foreman called "the snake-oil table." The T-shirts printed with the message "Fuck Bechtel" had sold out, but more were on the way. There were bumper stickers: "Bio-Centrism," and "Subvert the Dominant Paradigm."
A forty-eight-star American flag hung from a tree over the snake-oil table. It had been flown during EF's first bit of civil disobedience five years before, when Foreman and a few others dangled several hundred feet of black plastic down the face of Glen Canyon Dam, symbolizing a crack.
The list of seminars nailed to an aspen included Citizen Activism, FS Issues, Guerrilla Theater, Rain Forests, and EF! Image. I was intrigued with the latter and joined a dozen people settling uncertainly amidst the lupine. The leader was a teacher of psychology in Santa Cruz — another professor. He said, "This workshop will revolve around the questions: What are your and others' feeling about Earth First!? And what do you want it to be?" He added gravely, "There's a lot of possibility for controversy here.''
"I want to discuss the hard-ass aspects of Earth First!" said a fellow Californian in a carrot-colored goatee. "Hard-assedness could get us out of favor with the public."
"Excuse me," said the girl with. the beaded knife scabbard, "but I thought this was Toxic Waste." She walked off. 
"I'm delighted there's a place in Earth First! for monkey-wrenching," said a young Vermonter in a red bandana who had ridden a bus all the way out West. But he was not pleased with what he referred to as "Montana cowboy environmentalists" - the redneck wilderness advocates. Their women did the cooking, he said, while the men talked about fights they had seen in bars between the locals and the developers, and between themselves and the developers, and themselves and the locals. "They started drinking here last night," he added, jerking his head in the direction of the Montana camp up in the woods.
A woman in a serape said, "I've seen Earth First! referred to as eco-terrorist. In my opinion, moving a survey stake is a high act. I like the Montana redneck, shit-kicking, beer-drinking image. They make up myths, and the West is a mythical land. But eventually somebody's gonna get killed on one of these monkey-wrenched machines."
It was Santa Cruz's turn. "What attracted me to the Earth First! image was that it was fun. They did neat things, like rolling plastic down dams, and getting on TV. I'm from Santa Cruz, a liberal town aware of feminist issues. We don't all go along with the Montana image."
That "image" made trouble for him at home, where he couldn't get tables at conventions of nonviolent political groups because people thought Earth First! blew things up. "I decided Earth First! had an image problem. Instead of ecotage, we're going to demonstrate at Burger King against destruction of Central American rain forests."
Throughout the discussion a skinny old man sat propped against a tree, arms folded. When he couldn't stand it any longer, he said, "The reason I'm not in Sierra or Friends of the Earth or any of the others is because all they're concerned about is image. I don't give a fuck. You do something because it's right."