google-site-verification: googlee20fcd946adc59a7.html Out of the Past: 2010

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Rise of Texas

In 2000, Texas became the second-largest state in population when it surpassed New York. The 22.8 percent population increase in Texas, as compared to a national average of 13.2, meant a larger delegation to the U.S. Congress. An enhancement of national political power occurred in the "Southern Rim," as political scientists refer to those Sunbelt states from Georgia and Florida westward to Clark County, Nevada, and the ten counties of southern California.

As this tren
d continues, a major shift in national politics will occur. Texas, with a delegation in size second to California, stands to play a larger role in national politics than ever before.

Largest Cities in Texas History
1850 - Galveston
1900 - San Antonio
1950 - Houston
2000 - Houston

Texas: A Historical Atlas
History and American West Titles

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Backtracking on the Oregon Trail

More than 160 years have passed since the first of some 300,000 emigrants started a massive migration across the heartland of North America to the continent's Pacific shores. Beginning in Independence, Missouri, and ending in Oregon City, Oregon, the "Oregon Trail" stretched for 2,000 miles across six states.

Tracks from this passage are still embedded in the Snake River Plain not far from here. I've walked in them several times, pressing my feet where wagon wheels and oxen and well-worn boots once tread, and it continues to astonish me that so many people would give up their homes back East and travel so far with so little assurance of a better life at the far end of their seven-month journey.

This was no pleasure cruise, nor a mere "Adventure in Moving," as U-Haul used to advertise its rental vans and trailers. The folks who followed the Oregon Trail met violent winds, quicksand, floods, buffalo stampedes, disease and Indian attacks. Nearly 10 percent, or roughly 30,000 of them, lost their lives on the trail. Of those that survived,
many suffered the loss of livestock, personal fortunes and prized belongings.

What's also hard to fathom is the fact that precious little of the land that the survivors laid claim to at the end of their arduous journeys remains with their ancestors today.

Truth is, a great number of those who followed the Oregon Trail to Oregon did not stay. Promoters failed to mention the rain and swindlers and privations associated with homesteading. Some folks moved on to California. Others returned to the homes they left behind, throwing themselves at the mercy of their relatives and friends.

"Settlers" is an inaccurate description of most who made these journeys; "unsettled" is a fairer adjective and "backtrackers" is what others on the trail called them. Some used the trail three or four times, following their dreams back and forth, back and forth.

Backtracking is so common among Americans, in fact, that it's almost a cultural trait. Nearly a third of us will change residences in the next two years and many others will feel they should have. In every move, there's one overriding reason like a better job or bad neighbors or a longing to return to someplace familiar or a pining for someplace new.

We get tired of the old haunts, but once we've moved we miss them. We run from the provincialism of rural life only to be repulsed later by what we find in the city or suburb.

Like young Huck Finn, we fear being "sivilized" by Tom Sawyer's Aunt Sally and are determined to "light out for the Territory" if anyone starts making demands.

This is the urge that blazed the Oregon Trail, I believe. It prompted a goodly portion of 19th century Americans to leave their farms and friends and families for an uncertain future in the Territory. By its energy a continent was populated. Because of its endurance our souls remain unsettled.

Copyright © 2010. All rights reserved by Michael Hofferber

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Outgoing: Idaho Ghost Towns and Mining Camps

A quest for gold and silver inspired ambitious men and fearless women of more than a century ago to build the first towns in the high country of Idaho.

Many of these communities, barely more than encampments, sprouted overnight. Some thrived and died within a season, like the wildflowers that color alpine meadows in mid-summer. Others set the foundations for present-day Ketchum, Mackay, Hailey and Bellevue.

Of those that died, just a few shards of speculative zeal remain among the tumbled-down cabins and mine shafts. These include:

Sawtooth City
Vienna City
Boulder City

Copyright © 1993. All rights reserved by Michael Hofferber

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Acts of God

Terrible things happen. Chinese students slaughtered in Tianenman Square. Hurricane Katrina floods New Orlean. Oil spill washes ashore on the Gulf Coast. I know it's morbid to watch, to listen, to read reports of these things, but I do so anyway; we all do. Disasters fascinate.

In our vacuum-packed, industrialized, fragmented microchip society true surprise and awe is rare. Most days are calm. Perhaps there's an undercurrent of worry over money, the car, the kids, but these are the stresses of everyday life, not disasters. A disaster usually comes on sudden and unexpected. It is a calamitous, and often violent, diversion from an established course. It interrupts, destroys, redirects.

Disasters are not all the same, however. There are those that are natural, or "acts of God," and there are those events caused by the mistakes or misjudgments of man. It makes a difference which you get, both in how we view the event and in how we deal with the consequences. That's what psychologists claim.

Acts of God are easiest to excuse. God doesn't make mistakes, right? An earthquake is part of a natural mountain-building, continent-shaping process. Forest fires prepare the land for new growth. Hurricanes help cool the Earth's surface temperature.

With man-made disasters, though, it's much harder to find the benefit. Who profited from Exxon's spill in Prince William Sound or the BP catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico? How does a plane crash contribute to life? What did Chernobyl do for this planet?

I am drawn to the scene of natural disasters. I do not chase ambulances and feel little curiosity about the causes of car crashes and plane wrecks, but I'll travel far to see the effects of a volcano or to witness great storms. I want to see those places where the acts of God are recorded in the Earth like books of the Bible. I want to stand where the primal forces made themselves manifest. I want to remember supernatural power.

Mount St. Helens. Crater Lake. Yellowstone. Krakatoa. The Palouse. Meteor Crater. The dinosaur fossil beds of Utah and Montana and Colorado. These were the settings for awesome events, both wonderful and terrifying. They are like shrines to the forces that shaped this planet, that gave life to its continents and breath to its creatures. Here God performed.

Standing in the shadow of Mount Shasta, where the largest known volcanic debris avalanche swept through a dozen river valleys and out to sea, I am again amazed that the "seven wonders of the world" included not one natural feature.

The Alexandrine sight-seers were all agog over the temple of Artemis and the walls of Babylon. Why not Mount Vesuvius or the vast Sahara?

I find more fascination in the icy peaks of Glacier National Park than the pyramids of Egypt. How can a statute of Zeus compare with the Columbia River Gorge? The Colossus at Rhodes was no match for Old Faithful.

Perhaps in a world dominated by acts of God, when tempests arrived without warning and mysterious plagues beset innocent peoples, it must have been some comfort to see what wonders the hands of man could wrest from the jaws of nature.

How peculiar, then, that after a little more than two millennia the acts of man should be so prominent on this Earth, capable of diverting floods and preventing fires and splitting atoms. In a world of satellites and freeways and nuclear power plants it is now the acts of God that are some comfort, a proof that there are still powers beyond those of man.

Copyright © 2003. All rights reserved by Michael Hofferber

Artwork: Mount Shasta 3 by John K. Nakata

Thursday, June 10, 2010

In Deep Trouble, Once Again

As noted on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show, see video below, there are strong parallels between the 1979 Ixtoc Gulf Oil Spill and the BP Oil Spill of 2010.

Both involved the failure of a blowout preventer device, and in both cases metal domes put over the well failed to stop the leaks.

In both cases, the only way to stop the spill is with relief wells dug horizontally through the seafloor, a process that takes months.

The BP Oil Spill is not something new. This has happened at least twice before, at Santa Barbara and in the Gulf of Mexico, and the remedies are no more sophisticated or effective as they were 30 and 40 years ago.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

1969 ~ Santa Barbara Oil Spill

On January 28, workers on Union Oil's Platform A in the Dos Cuadras Offshore Oil Field off the coast of Southern California were pulling a drilling tube out of one of the wells to replace a drill bit when disaster struck.

The pressure differential created by removing the tube was not adequately compensated for by pumping mud back down into the 3,500-ft-deep well, causing a drastic buildup of pressure and, quickly thereafter, a blowout. Natural gas, oil, and mud shot up the well and into the ocean. The pressure also caused breaks in the ocean floor surrounding the well, from which more gas and oil escaped.

The blowout caused an oil spill that lasted 10 days and gushed 80,000 to 100,000 barrels of crude oil into the channel and onto the beaches of Santa Barbara County.

The spill fouled the Southern California coastlinbe from Goleta to the Rincon and all four of the northern Channel Islands. Upwards of 10,000 birds as well as fish, sea lions, and other marine life were killed in the ecological disaster.

Many have viewed the disaster as a key event in the emergence of the modern environmental movement.

"The blowout was the spark that brought the environmental issue to the nation's attention," said Arent Schuyler, an environmental studies lecturer at the University of California at Santa Barbara in a 1989 interview with the Los Angeles Times.

"People could see very vividly that their communities could bear the brunt of industrial accidents. They began forming environmental groups to protect their communities and started fighting for legislation to protect the environment."

Copyright © 2010. All rights reserved by Michael Hofferber
Dead Bluebill Duck, Lying on Its Side, Eyes Open, in an Oil Spill from Greek Tanker Delian Apollon Photograph by George Silk

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Benchmark Statement

One of the great lies of our time, perpetuated by the media and our leaders, is the notion of historical progress. Somehow we got it into our heads — and this probably dates back to Aristotle — that time is a one-way track and that once we (as a people) have passed through an era and suffered its ignominies and learned its lessons we could move on, leaving the past behind.

“Leave the past to the past; it’s water under the bridge. Away to the future!”

But everywhere you look, from the findings of quantum physics to archaeological discoveries to the morning news, there is evidence that the past is still in the present, and in the future too.

Genocide did not begin or end with the Holocaust, the Corps of Discovery is still crossing the Rockies, and the American Civil War is not over. Conflicts in the Middle East, debates about evolution and anti-war protests are just the latest episodes in a dramatic series that has been airing for a long, long time.

When I was in high school, I remember feeling that history had lost its relevance, that space exploration and Vietnam and nuclear weapons were such unique developments that the voices and lessons of the past had nothing instructive to contribute. The 21st century was going to be far, far different than anything that had come before.

I was not alone in my wrong-mindedness. Ours was a “new age” with a many a “new beginning” and “new” products and technologies. Old was irrelevant.

What I did not recognize, and what is still not commonly perceived, is how cyclical and repetitive are the patterns of history. Everything from the movements of continents and the growth and recession of the ice caps to the ups and downs of the stock market and the rise and fall of civilizations defies the notion that time and history are progressing steadily forward into a “new” future.

Even some subatomic particles appear to travel back and forth in time, suggesting that now and later and before are more interconnected than we can imagine.

George Santayana’s famous warning, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” is a lie too. It suggests that knowledge of the past can somehow change the course of the history, as if the study of meteorology could control the path of a hurricane.

Like the weather, I believe, the cycles of history cannot be redirected. We cannot help but be caught up in its storms. We are, by nature, condemned to its repetitions. But, as individuals, we have the ability to make choices, and knowledge of what has come before and how others dealt with it then can make a big difference in how we weather our future.

It makes a difference what crops you plant or where you settle, what leaders you follow and the advice you heed.

Knowing history, then, is more than mere recreation; it is critical to our survival. “For nine-tenths of the time that human beings have been on earth, knowledge that was essential to survival was transmitted from one generation to the next by the vehicle of story,” notes the eminent U.S. historian David McCullough.

History is told in stories, and voices from out of the past are our most instructive storytellers. Tales of plagues and abundance, victories and losses, disasters and good fortune are the lifeboats of our culture, dispatched for our survival. Take hold where you can, and pull yourself to safety.

Copyright © 2005. All rights reserved by Michael Hofferber