Peak & Prairie

Rocky Mountain Chapter's
Online Newsletter
April / May 1999


Book Review : Lasso The Wind

by Barbara Fenton, P&P Editorial Staff

A Cautionary Tale of Future Environmental Catastrophes


Lasso the wind. Those three words are a metaphor that illustrates the struggle between the persistent efforts of humans and the elusive qualities of the West. The eleven states west of the one-hundredth meridian have proven to be worthy adversaries to those individuals in history who have attempted to harness and control the beautiful and wild land. The history of the West is littered with ghosts of people whose infinite ambition and boundless greed have ravaged both people and earth. The future of the West promises a similar fate to those who do not heed the memories of the past.

Timothy Egan, the New York Times Pacific Northwest correspondent, took a pilgrimage throughout the West and wrote a book that is a fusion of rich historical drama, a commentary of current social mores, and a cautionary tale of future environmental catastrophes. Throughout the new book, Egan injects wry humor, simmering anger, and an uncanny ability to gaze into a person’s soul, living or deceased.

When Egan relates the story of the Mormon Mountain Meadow massacre of 1857, the reader can feel the palpable terror that the victims experienced. In the chapter describing the reign of the Copper Kings in Montana, one can see the resulting devastation of the land and hear the hollow rattle of empty spaces and desperate poverty. In another section, Egan parallels a fishing trip with his brothers in Idaho’s Bitterroots Mountains with the Lewis and Clark expedition in those mountains between 1804 and 1806. While the Egan family enjoyed such culinary treats as salmon fettucine, Edam cheese and merlot after a day of fishing, the explorers were reduced to eating their horses to ward off starvation in the hostile mountains. The Egans packed in topo-graphical maps, graphite fly rods and plenty of ibuprofen. The Lewis and Clark team had wool blankets, flour rations, and the handouts of the Shoshone Indians. The irony of these diverse situations is not lost on Egan.

In perhaps the most harrowing chap-ter, Chaos and Cancer, Egan depicts how water is being diverted from Zion National Park to Las Vegas. The damming of the Virgin River in Utah is being done so tourists in Nevada can enjoy the "rain forest" at the Mirage, the verdant green golf courses, and for the city’s subdivisions that are expanding exponentially. However, Egan points out one little problem. The drinking water in Las Vegas is just six miles from where the city dumps their waste. The ancient Paiutes knew the dangers of drawing water from the same location where old poison is deposited. The memories of the past are not being heeded. The administrators whose number crunching sharpens the bottom line to a razor’s edge must also realize the lethal consequences of wielding those formulas.

As Egan notes in his book, the newspapers report almost daily of the continuing skirmish in the battle for the domination of the West’s resources. As soon as legislation is introduced to pre-serve some area of the West, a swarm of people starts bickering about water rights, grazing privileges and oil exploration. Can everyone be satisfied? No. You can’t lasso the wind.


Lasso the Wind: Away to the New West

By Timothy Egan

266 pages (September 1998)

Knopf: ISBN: 0375400249

List price: $25.00