Trying to sum up the past 25 years, you’d think the logical opening here would be, ‘I don’t know where to begin.’ The truth is, once you wade through this issue, you might ask yourself, ‘Does he know how to stop?’
A few months ago, realizing that, against all odds, we were going to reach our 25th anniversary still standing, I played with the idea of writing a personal no-holds-barred, behind-the-scenes history, as I’ve seen it, of this publication’s past quarter century. The effort has probably been more for me than for you, a cathartic experience in many ways; I wanted to jot down my memories, review the old print Zephyrs, and, for better or worse, reminisce a bit. It’s been so long ago since the first issue went to press, I needed to clear my own head and separate my perceptions, all these years later, from the facts.
The time spent thumbing through 158 copies of the old Zephyr, and scrolling through the last 30 online Zs, has been like riding a roller coaster on a wobbly track. We’ve enjoyed good times and weathered bad times and dealt with everything in between. Sometimes it has felt as if we were about to come off the rails, but here we are, intact and still smiling.
After gathering up and digesting all that information and adding my own memories to the mix, I started scribbling. My plan was to write one long “Zephyr Chronicles” and include it all in this 25th anniversary issue. But the words kept coming…and coming..and…
I could not torture my readers with this kind of longwindedness…at least not all at once. I realized the story needed to be serialized. And so, for the next five or six issues, if you’re interested, you’ll be able to read how this little publication got from there to here and, hopefully, I can explain, from my perspective at least, the ‘whys’ and the ‘how comes’ as well. And maybe even the ‘what the …?’ too. It may still put you to sleep, but it will take longer to get you to slumberland.
In compiling this history, I’ve included excerpts from long ago essays and editorials, comments from readers, and when necessary, I refer to email correspondence, but have avoided any references to our personal lives. Sometimes those correspondences did get personal, on both sides, and avoiding mention of them entirely is impossible. When it’s all said and scribbled and posted over the next few months, you may want to give the ‘Zephyr Chronicles’ a new title, like:
‘EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT THE ZEPHYR BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK,’ or more likely…
‘EVERYTHING THAT ANYBODY MIGHT OR MIGHT NOT WANT TO KNOW ABOUT THE ZEPHYR BUT WERE TOLD ANYWAY.’
The beauty of it is, you don’t have to read it. But for those interested parties, it will all be there, in several installments, and starting elsewhere in this issue. However, in deference to the Twitter World within which we reside, I offer a very abbreviated summary…
The idea to start an alternative monthly publication came in the wake of the November 1988 local election when Grand County citizens voted overwhelmingly to oppose a toxic waste incinerator near Cisco, forty miles upstream from Moab. The two incumbent commissioners who conceived of and supported the incinerator were defeated, though not by candidates who would in any way be described as “New Moabites.”
What impressed me about the election was the diversity of the people who opposed the incinerator. It would hardly fit the profile of 2014 Progressive Moab. The vote was not framed in a Right Wing vs Left Wing way, nor was the conversation as much about ‘environmental impacts’ as it was about preventing the degradation of our way of life. The vote had a very common sense appeal to it.
And so I had this idea to start a newspaper, with all views presented and the hope that all of us could create something different in Moab. (Read my first ‘Page Two’ editorial elsewhere in this issue.). Had it just been us Remnant Moabites calling the shots, we might have even succeeded. But within a few years, as the recreation/amenities economy was pushed fast and hard by out of town investors and as all the empty homes were bought up by absentee landlords, the town began to change.
For years, my environmentalist friends were just as worried about the tourist boom as I was–they were at times my only allies, and I still held out hope that we could at least moderate the takeover. But by 2000, resistance from the grassroots greens, even in Moab, was gone. It happened with such subtlety, I was unaware of the attitude shift for much longer than I should have been. For years, we argued quietly, behind the scenes, me hoping they’d confront the impacts that our recreation economy was creating, them hoping I’d stop arguing and re-join the fold.
Finally in 2001, The Zephyr went public, with the April/May issue called, “It’s Time to Look in the Mirror…When will environmentalists acknowledge their own contribution to the destruction of the wilderness they claim to love and want to protect?”
The issue was well-received by practically everyone but Utah environmentalists. As SUWA board member Bill Hedden was to tell me years later, “ People tried to politely look the other way when you decided to circle the wagons and fire inward.” That was the way he and others saw it and I was profoundly disappointed. I didn’t think any of us was above scrutiny, which was why I included my own hypocrisies and contradictions in the ‘Mirror’ issue. But the rift was finally out in the open and there it has remained to this day.
Since then, The Zephyr has tried to cover the stories that no one else will, whether it’s the continuing and ever-growing impacts from the amenities/recreation economy, or the influence of the mega-rich on mainstream environmentalism, or, just this month, the unexpected rise of a plan to raise the defunct Book Cliffs Highway from the grave. Or the bigger issues–like drones and war and greed and over-consumption and over-population, or the sham and farce of ‘alternative energy,’ or the shame of intolerance and racism. If we don’t cover oil and gas impacts and ATV abuse as fully as some wish we would, it’s only because they’re being reported just about everywhere else in the mainstream ‘green’ media and we hate to be redundant.
Having said that, I’d be delighted if there were a media source out there who would finally pick up the wreck-reation story. Or deal with what I once called “the rich weasel factor in the New West.” I do feel a bit redundant in that regard. Frankly we’re tired of carrying the load. But as you’ll see, in the issues to come, there’s a reason why nobody wants to touch it. As always, it has to do with money.
I’ve loved and hated this paper, for 25 years. I uprooted myself from Moab and went south to Monticello a decade ago. I once threatened to quit and move to Funafuti, a remote island in the South Pacific, but I lost that option as climate change threatened to drown my little would-be paradise. I once moved to Australia, thinking I could somehow run The Zephyr from there. I came back, tail between my legs, mortified at my own stupidity, but glad to be home. And now, happily married and partnered up with Tonya, who shares Zephyr duties and makes my life so much better in so many ways, I wonder if maybe we’ll even make it to 50. If we do, you’ll be the first to know.
Jim Stiles is Founder and Co-Publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr.
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