“Let the word go forth, from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans…”
I was sleeping soundly, oblivious to the cares of the world, and probably snoring even more loudly than usual—serenity does that to me— when I stirred under the covers, and reached gently for my beloved. My joy. My world…
But she wasn’t there. Odd, I thought. We didn’t even drink coffee that late. It was still dark and I was about to turn over and check if the hall light was on when, in a flash, my world changed.
At that precise moment, the tranquility of the night was split apart by a deafening, unworldly roar, and the harsh brilliance of a dozen high wattage klieg lights, all aimed at my face. The “music” sounded like Nine Inch Nails at its most horrific. To quote the comedian, “I can only handle about an inch and a half of those guys.” My head throbbed. I stared into the lights and thought, There’s no way these are energy saving LEDs.
Confused and terrified, I reached blindly into the Glare and cried out, “Tonya? Tonya, honey? Are you there?
Suddenly, I felt the hard Vibram sole of a military-style combat boot come down squarely upon my chest. It ground its way deeper, the way a mobster rubs out a smoldering butt, until I was pinned and immobile. I squirmed and squinted and could barely make out the silhouette of someone. A human I thought…..I realized to my shock and awe, it was the Missus. She was holding a razor-sharp broadsword of some kind, unsheathed from its scabbard, and I thought, Oh my God…just like John Brown!
And yet, despite the black Kevlar body armor and the sword and what appeared to be a semi-automatic AR 15 assault rifle slung stylishly over her shoulder, I thought….
“…well, pretty as ever.”
She eased her boot from my now concaved chest-cavity and, like a cat, moved swiftly to clench a tightly gloved hand around my throat. My beloved drew closer until I could see her more clearly, her blonde curls backlighted against the hot lights. Tonya smiled malevolently, those stunning blue eyes just inches from mine now, and then she pulled me even closer.
I said, “Honey, what seems to be the matter?”
“Jimbo,” she snarled, “…Darling…this is what’s called a ‘hostile takeover.’ The Zephyr is MINE!”
Then I woke up.
I was sweating profusely, and thrashing about the bed. Involuntary reflex action. I felt my chest. It was still there. No hint of klieg lights. No sign of Trent Reznor. Tonya was awake, right there by my side, as she had been when I dozed off the night before. She was trying ever, so sweetly (as is her way), to bring me back to Reality.
“It’s okay,” she said. “I’m here.”
I looked at her uncertainly. “But what about the broadsword? The…the black combat boots? The klieg lights! You know…the ‘hostile takeover?”
“The…the what?” she asked. “‘Hostile takeover?'” She ran her soothing hands across my perspiring brow…
“That was so weird,” I whimpered. “I thought you were trying to…” She put her hand over my mouth. A sudden look of acknowledgment crossed Tonya’s face and she nodded, as if now my nocturnal angst made perfect sense.
“Sweetie…are you having nightmares about me becoming publisher and managing editor again?”
I shook myself awake. “Wow,” I said. “I guess I am.”
Tonya hugged me and smiled, “Honey, you started this paper 31 years ago. You’ll always be ‘Mr. Zephyr’. To me at least.”
“It’s okay. Don’t worry,” she cooed. “You can still pretend you’re the boss.”
“Thanks,” I sighed. “I needed that.”
* * *
Okay… I hope I got your attention. Clearly, we were going for maximum “likes” and a big bump in our “unique reads,” though why I care at this point is beyond me. But to create a provocative, albeit contrived scenario (or is it?) to describe some recent changes here at the World Headquarters of the Canyon Country Zephyr is our way of getting your attention. Things are evolving here at the Big Z.
In fact, that’s not even true. This announcement more accurately reflects changes that have occurred slowly but deliberately over the past few years, than any recent earth quaking upheaval.
When I first conceived of The Zephyr, over 31 years ago, Ronald Reagan was president, the internet only existed in Al Gore’s head (he claims), cell phones were a novelty, Moab was on its way to becoming a ghost town after the Atlas Mill shutdown, ed Abbey was still with us, and I was trying to figure a way to make a living after a decade of dubious devotion to the National Park Service at Arches NP.
I began The Z on a shoestring budget and not much has changed in three decades. For almost 20 years, I assembled the print paper with a pair of scissors and a hand waxer— the now defunct “cut and paste” method of creating page layouts. I didn’t even own a computer for the first three years The Z was in operation; I wrote everything by hand on a yellow legal pad and had it transcribed by a friend.
I’ve always been a “low-tech” kind of a guy, so when computers and floppy disks and the global interwebs came along, I handled it as well as possible, given my God-given limitations. So when economic necessity ended the print version in 2009 and I went exclusively online, I had no freaking idea what I was doing. For almost two years, we simply posted PDFs of our print paper and hoped for the best (I finally mastered InDesign just as the paper Z version ended). Hardly anyone saw those early issues.
But on the very day when a new webmaster practically burned The Zephyr to the ground in a techno-nightmare fiasco that still gives me shudders — October 1, 2009 — I met Tonya Audyn Morton. As they proclaim in Cape Girardeau, or as the plumber said to the priest, “the rest is history.”
We were an unlikely pair; the age difference alone set tongues to wagging, as they are prone to do, especially in good old southeast Utah. Some of our closest friends predicted we “wouldn’t last a month.” seers, prophets and revelators, all of them. But the truth was and is, we have created an amazing, albeit unlikely, team. Although Tonya is considerably younger than me, she is also the oldest soul I have ever met. And the wisest. I, on the other hand, am considerably older than my wife, but I’m incredibly immature for my age. She also says I have “impish charm.”
For reasons that we will never understand, but will be grateful for nonetheless, our strange alliance works. Perfectly. We just marked a decade together. A 24/7 decade. We rarely leave each other’s side. When you consider most couples spend three to four waking hours a day together, our marriage is already approaching, in “time served,” its 25th anniversary in barely ten years.
In any case…by 2011, Tonya had not only moved in and married me, she brought the idea of technology along and helped move The Zephyr to WordPress and a more readable format. Our readership doubled and re-doubled. And again.
In the years since, Tonya has assumed all The Zephyr’s “production” responsibilities, from creating and piecing together all the page layouts, to our regular Zephyr email notification of new issues, Zephyr Backbone support, and the Monday morning “Stories of the Week.” If she were to be abducted by aliens tomorrow (as her current article might suggest), The Z would simply end. I’d have no idea what buttons to push to “make it happen.”
In addition, Tonya’s articles have become an integral part of The Zephyr. She was skeptical a decade ago when I first asked her to write a column, but Tonya’s followers have grown exponentially.
Though she has left most of the “Utah stuff” to me, her regular “Sowing Clover” columns have gained wide attention. And her brilliant review/response to the recent publication of “Desert Cabal” became the most read Zephyr story of 2019. When somebody finally pointed out that the book was NOT a complicated tribute to Edward Abbey as it had been pitched, I was proud that the truth came from The Zephyr, and from Tonya.
And when she penned a tribute to the Basque sheepherders who once roamed the West, her article was shared on Facebook more times than any Zephyr story in our ten year FB history.
So..as of today, our “staff box” has changed. I am the “founding publisher,” but Tonya assumes the role of “publisher and managing editor.” I also serve as “senior editor,” whatever the hell that means. I still do cartoons and will still write and manage much of the content, though I’d be delighted if I didn’t have to pen any more “San Juan County” stories for a while! (To prove how hopeless that particular fantasy is, note the accompanying article in this issue. But…someday?)
I also want to devote more of my time to a couple of projects I keep moving to back burners. First, my book “Brave New West” Morphing Moab at the Speed of Greed,” was published by the University of Arizona Press in 2007. The first printing sold out but UAP chose to let the book go out of print. They said there were issues with the design and the cost of illustrations, and so ‘BNW’ faded away. After three years, the rights reverted to me.
Now we have plans to move ahead with a revised and updated version that we intend to print ourselves. We are in fact considering a small publishing company of our own. We think, “Zephyr Blacklist Press” has a ring to it.
I want to go through the original manuscript, add a 2020 update at the end of each chapter and pen a new Introduction. What’s happened since 2007? A lot.
That’s why, if I can find the inner strength and discipline to even think about all that’s happened, especially since BNW and 2005, I’d like to write another book. Its working title is:
THE BEARS EARS BORG.
The subtitle could get a bit long for the page but it would run something like:
“Industrial Tourism, Money, the Media, the Manipulation, and the Assimilation of the American ‘New’ West”
The Monument story was a long time coming. For two decades, this publication has tried to raise awareness about the impacts of a runaway “Industrial Tourism” economy and the long-term transmogrification already being seen in Moab. We’ve reported the power and undue influence of the mega-wealthy, who often sit on the boards of directors of mainstream environmental organizations and control policies and objectives. And finally, there’s the alliance between the mainstream environmentalists and the recreation industry which began to take shape during a seldom mentioned gathering in 1998 called the “Wilderness Mentoring Conference,” which reshaped the movement’s future in ways we all continue to pay and suffer for, 25 years later.
But Bears Ears….
The Monument Show was, and continues to be, extraordinary. This massive propaganda campaign was based on misinformation, the manipulation and avoidance of basic facts, and downright fear mongering. The Show was executed, encouraged, and promoted with the enthusiastic compliance of a lockstepping local, regional, and national media.
Emotions formed opinions, rather that facts. The expression, ‘Never let hard information get in the way of a full-blown freakout,’ was never so spot on. I’ve never seen anything like it. And it continues to this day.
We could see its evolution for almost two decades before, which is why “Brave New West” is such a good prelude to “The Bears Ears Borg,” and why I need to write it as well.
In fact, two events shaped, occupied, and dominated our lives, starting in 2016. First, of course, was the monument controversy. But second, for Tonya and me, was the $5.5 million defamation lawsuit that was filed by the former city manager of Moab.
The first event drew attention from across the country and around the world. The second, our lawsuit, barely made a blip on the screen. From most perspectives, there wouldn’t seem to be a connection, which is another reason why I need to write the book. Though, for sure, the lawsuit plays a minor role in my narrative, it speaks volumes about the way partisanship, far more than ideology, is shaping public opinion and the media’s reporting of it.
The Bears Ears Borg book will offer a much more personal account of how all this went down. My Zephyr correspondence and communications over the years with politicians, professional environmental activists, anti-environmental activists, relevant journalists and writers, podcasters, bloggers, federal land managers, and other involved parties all helped to create the story I want to tell. So their utterances and observations, for better or worse, are part of that narrative as well. Accurate quotes. Documented statements. To me, that’s what matters. I really don’t care if I make people mad, as long as I get it right.
I don’t want the Bear Borg book to simply be a recitation of facts and events; it’s…you know...personal. It’s about the world I once knew, and the guy I once was and the views I held and continue to hold dear. It’s how that world has turned upside down, and inside out, and how it affected my world view as well. It’s an acknowledgement of facts and truths I once ignored or avoided. It’s about the self-scrutinizing that brought me to where I am now. It’s about trying to be honest, at least to my own conscience and values.
* * *
While the Bears Ears Borg project often feels more like a burden to pursue, Tonya and I both find great pleasure in our latest endeavor, “Zephyr America: A Lens on the Past.” It’s our “politics-free” companion Facebook page that is dedicated to the photographic archives of , for starters, Herb Ringer, Edna Fridley, Charles Kreischer, and my father, James Stiles Sr.
All of them left an amazing archive of images from a time in America that is fast receding into an often forgotten and ignored past. But we like living in the past and so we take refuge in these brilliant old photos from time to time. You might find some relief there too.
I’ve been scanning and archiving hundreds of images from our collections and Tonya has been running the new page and posting never-before-seen photographs regularly. We’ve had a tremendous response and we hope you will take a look, if you haven’t already. Just visit us at Facebook.com/ZephyrAmerica.
Meanwhile, back at The Zephyr, all nightmares and broadswords aside, I don’t think I’ve ever felt as confident about this little rag’s staying power as I am now. Tonya has rejuvenated The Z, and me, in ways I would not have thought possible a decade ago.
Best of all, if you have a complaint, if you harbor a long-held grudge, if you think The Z is too “toxic” for human existence, tell it to my wife. As the new managing editor, she handles complaints now! She can be reached at:
My dream is to ultimately become ornamental.
Jim Stiles is Founding Publisher and Senior Editor of the Canyon Country Zephyr.