As I prepare for the great “Water and the West” humanities retreat at Lochsa Lodge west of Missoula, Mon.t, in mid-January, I’m rereading Marc Reisner’s water classic, “Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water.”
Here’s the first paragraph of Chapter Three: First Causes:
“When archaeologists from some other planet sift through the bleached bones of our civilization, they may well conclude that our temples were dams. Imponderably massive, constructed with exquisite care, our dams will outlast anything else we have built — skyscrapers, cathedrals, bridges, even nuclear power plants. When forests push through the rotting streets of New York and the Empire State Building is a crumbling hulk, Hoover Dam will sit astride the Colorado River much as it does today — intact, formidable, serene.” (104)
Los Angeles as we know it, Phoenix, Las Vegas and the sprawling megalopolis on the front range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado (Fort Collins, Denver, etc.) would be no more than modest communities in the arid or semi-arid West if it were not for industrial gigantism.
All of this costs stupendous quantities of money. These great water impoundments and diversions invariably have other “costs” — to the environment, rare and endangered species, Native American and the districts from which the water has been appropriated (e.g., Owens Valley in California). “Water,” as Reisner reminds us, “has a way of flowing uphill towards money.”
We’ll talk about water for four days at Lochsa Lodge — playfully, rigorously, with real immersion in great books like Reisner’s “Cadillac Desert,” Kevin Fedarko’s “The Emerald Mile” and Stegner’s classic, “Beyond the Hundredth Meridian.”
These retreats represent the book club you always wanted to join — unpretentious, spirited, full of humor, relieved by food, drink, walks, a trip to a nearby hot springs and more.
Winters are mild and exceedingly beautiful in the Bitterroot Mountains. We’ll have open fires each night outside the lodge and fabulous conversations, some of which will be about water!
For more information for the Jan. 13-18 Water retreat, go to Jeffersonhour.com/tours.