The Way Out of Weippe

People dread the story that begins, “Back when I was a kid.” And with good reason.

You’ve been warned.

I grew up in a backwoods burg of a few hundred people. Known now as the first place the Corps of Discovery met the Nez Perce Indians, Weippe, Idaho was a timber town, back when timber was king. My childhood friends had fathers who worked in the woods, felling and bucking the trees that shot down the flumes into the nearby Clearwater River. I remember when the last log drive in the continental United States was shepherded down the river by hardy loggers with caulk boots and black, stagged-off jeans held up by red suspenders.

That was 1971. Before the first oil crisis. Before the Iran hostage crisis. Before broad knowledge of many planetary crises. Before globalization ruled our lives. Simpler times, for sure. Just about everybody in Weippe was an FDR Democrat, dedicated to strong workers’ rights and a decent social safety net.

Not all the good old days were good, of course.

Just a year before the last log drive, when I was 10 years old, I was walking the three blocks to school when I had an eerie feeling (or perhaps heard a noise, subconsciously). As I walked, I looked over my shoulder to see one of the town bullies pointing a rifle out his bedroom window, aimed at the base of my neck. If memory serves, he was 13 at the time. I kept walking, knowing enough to hide my fear. I thought so little of the incident I didn’t tell my parents for a couple decades. It just never came up.

Such were the consequences of being a bit weird in a redneck town in the early 1970s. Far worse things happened to really “odd” people, including hippies, Jews, and people of color. And there were no gays or lesbians, at least not in Weippe, in full view.

What made me odd? Mostly, I suppose, I was odd because I was the principal’s kid. As a result, I was one of the few youngsters in town who was often reminded that education might serve me better than a Hobbesian life in the woods. Mom and dad were both educators, so I read voraciously. Real trouble was hard to find — the meth labs hadn’t moved in, yet, and the country’s cultural revolution never actually arrived in Weippe — so I played outside and, when it rained or snowed, I read books. It rained and snowed a lot.

After a few visits to the town library, I clearly remember believing I would read all the books. And not merely all the books in the tiny library, but all the books. This fantasy died when I visited the stacks at the University of Idaho library. The bittersweet memories return every time I catch the musty whiff of old texts.

I graduated from crappy state universities and I work at one that’s the worst of the lot. And yet, despite poor educational institutions and serious swimming in culture’s main stream, I saw the world.

How disappointing.

Actually, the world is spectacular. It’s the humans in the world I find disappointing, disturbing, and — to quote Nietzsche — all too human. Weippe is an excellent example. Overnight, all those FDR Democrats became Reagan Republicans, dedicated to growth for the sake of growth. They’ve traded in tomorrow for today by adopting the ideology of neoconservatism (and the cancer cell). And they, along with the rest of Americans, continue to memorialize the world as we destroy it.

But seeing the world, and experiencing its wonders (and its books), led to learning. And that has made me even more odd, in the eyes of most people, than when I was an odd 10-year-old. Now I’m not merely odd — I’m downright wacky, sheer terror to neocons everywhere.

A little education goes a long way. Education was my ticket out of Weippe. But I should have stopped at knowing a little about forestry instead of a little about humans, ecology, economics, and limits to growth. I’d be a happy neoconservative, rather than an informed — and haunted — liberal. I wouldn’t know our culture is violent, diseased, broken, irredeemable.

Ignorance is bliss. I need to get me some.

Comments 5

  • Guy —
    I think the world is going to soon be forced to acknowledge a paradigm shift. Ignorance will not be connected to bliss, but to death. Knowledge will not guarantee safety, but will be like a good starting pitcher in major league baseball — it will give the possessor a chance to win. (Nolan Ryan, a great, great pitcher with refreshing modesty used to say that the job of a good starting pitcher was not to win the game, but to give his team six or seven good innings and a chance to win)
    I loved the Howard Zinn biographical DVD “You Can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train”, which I highly recommend. Dr. Zinn pointed out that without a knowledge of history, we are prone to just keep repeating the same mistakes. I loved Howard Zinn before seeing that DVD, and even more so after seeing it. He is another example of a man with powerful intellect and unflinching moral ethic proved over a long lifetime of good works.
    Stan Moore
    Petaluma, CA

  • Some might be interested in a brand new perspective of mine that was published today at I introduce the concept of Barack Obama as the left wing Ronald Reagan and try to explain how Obama’s sycophantic supporters are going to suffer self-injury if they elect him as Reagan’s supporters did.
    The essay can be read at:
    Stan Moore
    Petaluma, CA

  • I don’t see any of the current people vying for national office as knights in shining armor. I actually took my kids to political rallies this year. Aside from being driven nuts by the idiotic supporters (in both camps) who weren’t sure if they wanted to having a stroller anywhere in view of the camera in the bleechers (have too look like the place is packed–don’t you know) and other minor annoyances, I came to understand the events (and the candidates) were a triumph of style over substance.
    I can’t hide my ambivalence. I really don’t think, barring some miracle, the American public (or the world for that matter) at large is ready to get down to brass tacks and fix this broken mess we call society.
    Through volunteering and other efforts, I know there are good people out there. They just aren’t the majority. A few people are working hard to make the world what they want to see, but the vast majority are clueless (willfully so in some cases).
    It will have to get a lot worse before the clueless masses join the efforts of the concerned few.
    If they ever will…
    I’ve always been odd, myself. I don’t really fit anywhere or match the popular molds out there.
    Trust me, that can be quite painful as a mother of young children who only works part-time. Mothering circles, I have found, are brutal. Many of the participants are bizare throwbacks and the ones that aren’t are walking, talking “modern woman” cliches crafted (so far as I can tell) from bits and pieces of prime-time TV melodramas and old issues of People magazine.
    My main companions during the day–that keep me sane–are books from the local library, the internet and my children.
    Some days, I lament not being “just like everyone”, but I still think it is better to be different. At least, in my own unpopular little way, I am authentic and aware of the world around me. Better that than some plastic caricature of a human being.
    Good luck to you, Guy. Sometimes being out of the mainstream just has to serve as its own reward.
    I thought this article (linked on LATOC) was a good one:
    Manufactured Aspirations, indeed…

  • A book I checked out of the public library and am now reading is: “Chasing the Flame: Sergio Viera de Mello and the Fight to Save the World.”
    I only heard of this man because of news reports of his death in a bombing in Baghdad, where he ran the United Nations station. This was of little concern to me at the time.
    I saw the book at Borders Bookstore when it first was released, and I was struck by the image of this man on the front cover. He was an extraordinarily handsome man, but in a pensive pose on the cover of the book — it just made me wonder who this fellow was. I did not want to purchase the book, and now I am very glad that I found it at the public library so that I can read it for free. That is the beauty of public libraries!
    I have read the first two or three chapters and the last two or three chapters already, and now I am going back to fill in the middle. I was not bored after reading the first few chapters, but I happened to look in the photo section and noticed photos of Sergio with a different beautiful woman in the latter part of his life than the beautiful wife he married in his twenties. I had to find out who the beautiful blonde was, and that led to me wanting to read about his death and funeral, etc. And so I did and now I am going back to his career.
    This man was not only extraordinarily good looking, which is true enough. He was a very stylish Brazilian and a real man of the world. His father held jobs in international diplomacy and the family lived in several nations of the world. Sergio never lived in the same place more than a few years in his entire life, and he was fluent in several languages. He was sophisticated, stylish, urbane, and extraordinarily handsome. He was highly intelligent and did his university studies in philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, if I remember correctly. He entered a career in the United Nations, thinking it would be temporary, but he continued to work on advance degrees while employed in various trouble spots of the world for the U.N., with his specialty being to resettle and care for refugees. He went on to get his Masters and his PhD in philosophy by working on the academics in unconventional ways.
    This is an amazing life of an extraordinary man! That is all I can say. He deeply wanted to help people, and his career put him in places where people desperately needed help. Yet, he had to face a lot of frustration and futility, as one can imagine when he was sent to Lebanon in the 1970’s or 1980’s to create space between the invading Israelis and the Palestians and other disputants in that cramped and dangerous neck of the woods. He was in a situation where he simply could not win, but could easily get killed. And I gather his career continued to place him in those sorts of situations for many years to come.
    My sense is that Sergio Viera de Mello was a heroic figure and a marvelous person, but who had to face immense frustration because the world he was trying to save did not always want to be saved (I’ll be THAT sames familiar :) )
    His death was extraordinarily tragic, because his injuries from the bomb blast were not automatically mortal wounds, but he was trapped in rubble. He could communicate with potential rescuers, but they were not organized and capable of getting him out in time and he expired quite unnecessarily, it seems. He could speak from the place where he was trapped in a prone position and the rescuers heard him asking about the welfare of many others, but could not tell from his conversation that he was the most important UN official in the country, with international standing and literally a friend of kings, presidents and high officials all around the world. It was heartbreaking to read about the inability of those involved to rescue this great man in a timely fashion.
    I am already confident that I will be able to highly recommend this book and to say that I stand in awe of this man, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and his life of effort to make the world a better place.

  • Guy, I missed a lot of your blog posts last year, what with the move and all, and just now ran across this one. Interesting reading some of these old memories; you and I grew up in the same small town at opposite ends of the state. Yours was logging, mine agriculture.
    I hope you stocked your mud hut with plenty of good reading material. And I don’t just mean books on how to survive, but books that bring joy and color to your life.