Sunshine Recorder

“Western Frieze” by Bryan Schutmaat

Throughout the ages people have had different ideas about what the American West represents, but many agree that it harbors a certain mystique born from wilderness. Though much of the West has been populated, paved over, and commercialized, I believe it still retains this mystique in various forms, and to find it means looking from various perspectives. This body of work takes on these perspectives and seeks to update our collective impression of the West by putting forth a vision of Americaʼs landscape that uses roadside culture to convey where the West has been and where itʼs going. Yet by no means are these photos meant to be pure documentation of America and its identity, but rather a portrait of what American identity means to me. And by photographing the West – where enigma, nostalgia, and history can be found in everyday scenes – I hope to help viewers find out what it means to them, whether or not they ever visit these sleepy towns and loneliest of landscapes for themselves.

(Source: sunrec)


How Fire Could Change the Face of the West
The vast wildfires of this summer and last represent a new normal for the western United States. They may signal a radical landscape transformation, one that will make the 21st century West an ecological frontier.

Unlike fires that have occurred regularly for thousands of years, these fires are so big and so intense as to create discontinuities in natural cycles. In the aftermath, existing forests may not return. New ecosystems will take their place.

“These transitions could be massive. They represent the convergence of several different forces,” said Donald Falk, a fire ecologist at the University of Arizona. “There is a tremendous amount of energy on the landscape that historically would not have been there. These are nuclear amounts of energy.”



Falk’s specialty is fire dynamics in the American Southwest, a region where record fires have become routine. Fueling the infernos is a combination of fire suppression, livestock grazing and logging.

Because small, low-intensity blazes are usually prevented from spreading, dead wood has accumulated, especially in arid and semi-arid regions where decomposition occurs slowly. Without these fires, dense shrubs and small trees proliferate, as they also do in gaps opened by harvesting of large trees. Grazing removes grasses that traditionally carried small fires and causes erosion that reduces soil’s ability to hold water.

Much of the West is now a giant tinderbox, literally ready to combust. Yet thanks to fire suppression, the consequences have been postponed for decades.
“When you look at the long record, you see fire and climate moving together over decades, over centuries, over thousands of years,” said pyrogeographer Jennifer Marlon of Yale University, who earlier this year co-authored a study of long-term fire patterns in the American West.

“Then, when you look at the last century, you see the climate getting warmer and drier, but until the last couple decades the amount of fire was really low. We’ve pushed fire in the opposite direction you’d expect from climate,” Marlon said.

The fire debt is finally coming due. In the Southwest, fires are reaching historically exceptional sizes and temperatures. “The fuel structure is ready to support massive, severe fires that the trees have not evolved to cope with,” said forest ecologist Dan Binkley of Colorado State University. “When the extent of the areas burned becomes large, there are no remaining sources of seeds for the next generation.”

Filling the newly open space will be grasses, shrubs and aspen, said Binkley. The forests will be gone. Something similar may also happen in California’s high-elevation Ponderosa forests, though different plant species will take their place than in the Southwest.

How Fire Could Change the Face of the West

The vast wildfires of this summer and last represent a new normal for the western United States. They may signal a radical landscape transformation, one that will make the 21st century West an ecological frontier.

Unlike fires that have occurred regularly for thousands of years, these fires are so big and so intense as to create discontinuities in natural cycles. In the aftermath, existing forests may not return. New ecosystems will take their place.

“These transitions could be massive. They represent the convergence of several different forces,” said Donald Falk, a fire ecologist at the University of Arizona. “There is a tremendous amount of energy on the landscape that historically would not have been there. These are nuclear amounts of energy.”

Falk’s specialty is fire dynamics in the American Southwest, a region where record fires have become routine. Fueling the infernos is a combination of fire suppression, livestock grazing and logging.

Because small, low-intensity blazes are usually prevented from spreading, dead wood has accumulated, especially in arid and semi-arid regions where decomposition occurs slowly. Without these fires, dense shrubs and small trees proliferate, as they also do in gaps opened by harvesting of large trees. Grazing removes grasses that traditionally carried small fires and causes erosion that reduces soil’s ability to hold water.

Much of the West is now a giant tinderbox, literally ready to combust. Yet thanks to fire suppression, the consequences have been postponed for decades.

“When you look at the long record, you see fire and climate moving together over decades, over centuries, over thousands of years,” said pyrogeographer Jennifer Marlon of Yale University, who earlier this year co-authored a study of long-term fire patterns in the American West.

“Then, when you look at the last century, you see the climate getting warmer and drier, but until the last couple decades the amount of fire was really low. We’ve pushed fire in the opposite direction you’d expect from climate,” Marlon said.

The fire debt is finally coming due. In the Southwest, fires are reaching historically exceptional sizes and temperatures. “The fuel structure is ready to support massive, severe fires that the trees have not evolved to cope with,” said forest ecologist Dan Binkley of Colorado State University. “When the extent of the areas burned becomes large, there are no remaining sources of seeds for the next generation.”

Filling the newly open space will be grasses, shrubs and aspen, said Binkley. The forests will be gone. Something similar may also happen in California’s high-elevation Ponderosa forests, though different plant species will take their place than in the Southwest.

The American West, 150 Years Ago: In the 1860s and 70s, photographer Timothy O’Sullivan created some of the best-known images in American History. After covering the U.S. Civil War, (many of his photos appear in this earlier series), O’Sullivan joined a number of expeditions organized by the federal government to help document the new frontiers in the American West. The teams were composed of soldiers, scientists, artists, and photographers, and tasked with discovering the best ways to take advantage of the region’s untapped natural resources. O’Sullivan brought an amazing eye and work ethic, composing photographs that evoked the vastness of the West. He also documented the Native American population as well as the pioneers who were already altering the landscape. Above all, O’Sullivan captured — for the first time on film — the natural beauty of the American West in a way that would later influence Ansel Adams and thousands more photographers to come. [34 photos]

We Are in a Western Town

A change has taken place and I don’t quite know what it is. The streets of this town are broad, much broader than they need to be, and there is a pallor of dust in the air. Empty lots here and there between the buildings have weeds growing in them. The sheet metal equipment sheds and water towers are like those of previous towns but are more spread out. Everything is more run-down and mechanical looking, and sort of randomly located. Gradually I see what it is. Nobody is concerned anymore about tidily conserving space. The land isn’t valuable anymore. We are in a Western town. — Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, 1974

I have lived in Phoenix, Arizona, on and off for nearly a decade. It’s a place I absolutely hated at first, but which, to my surprise, I’ve gradually grown to love, and I have managed to make a home and a life here in this strange Sunbelt metropolis. Yet I’ve always had deep reservations. A true western boomtown, Phoenix has grown phenomenally in recent decades, and its development has been guided largely by an ethos of resource extraction — though in this case, the use-it-up-and-move-on mentality of mineral mining has been brought to bear on another natural resource — the land itself. In Phoenix, the resource is real estate, and the result is a place that can feel more like an encampment of drifters — here only so long as the going is good — than a settlement of citizens. Nevertheless there are moments when this city in the Sonoran Desert seems to perfectly hold the brilliant light and wide space of the truly amazing landscape it inhabits.

It is no coincidence that concurrent with my ongoing struggle to come to terms with this unsettling place I have become more and more awed by the work of the photographer Robert Adams. For almost half a century Adams — born in 1937 in Orange, New Jersey, and raised in suburban Denver, Colorado — has been immersed in the impossible paradoxes of the American West. Adams’s work, which came to national prominence in the early 1970s and was included in the landmark 1975 exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape, focuses on our fraught relationship with the landscape of the West — the bland suburban cul-de-sacs and commercial strips built into the rugged foothills and on open ranges, the damage done to the forests and rivers, but also the solace still offered by the beauty of the land and the ever-present, transcendent feeling of light and space.

Over the years Adams’s prodigious output has exerted great influence; suburbia has become one of the great themes of American photography. The current retrospective, The Place We Live, organized by the Yale Art Gallery and now touring the country, is the latest testament to the power of his vision. But what seems to me still remarkable about Adams’s photography is its profound humility. Adams refuses to inject ideology or to propose solutions, and this resistance has allowed him to make the most of photography’s ability to look at things as they are. Thus his photography does not seem to me — as is often assumed — primarily a document of our collective destruction of the Western environment. It does not indulge in the easy, and ultimately hollow, device of opposing the splendor of nature to the despoliation of man. Struggling to reconcile our contradictory impulses and impacts, Adams’s photographs seek to lay open the difficult complexity of the interrelationships between the natural and the built; they aim to help us see, as Adams wrote early in his career, “a landscape into which all fragments, no matter how imperfect, fit perfectly.”

Link: Jonathan Evison on The American West

FiveBooks interviews asks writers, academics, and experts to list recommended books on a given topic.

The acclaimed novelist, and resident of Washington state, recommends fiction that captures a sense of the rugged landscape and people of the American West

You were born in California, but now live in Washington State. What is it that attracts you to the American West?

I’m actually fifth-generation Californian, though I’m a confirmed Washingtonian now. We moved here when I was eight and then I moved back to California for college so I’ve been up and down the West Coast my whole life. [Washington State] is home for me now. Going back to the books, Angle of Repose is about generations settling in California. In fact, four out of the five books I chose are Californian-Western novels.

The American West always has been, and remains, a place where Americans go to reinvent themselves. These days, we’re not doing westward expansion and homesteading anymore, but new movements and reinventions of old forms tend to pop up here, things like craft brewing or co-op farming. The West still harkens to a sort of rugged individualist.

The Western American novel is a broad term, but one thing that really characterises it for me is that landscapes are never far out of the picture. There always seems to be some element of the landscape and how it shapes the people and how they shape it. Even in an urban novel like Ask the Dust, the desert taking over the city is a big theme throughout the book. It’s named after the dust that comes up off the winds that blow in from the Santa Ana, so even in a 1930s urban novel you feel the landscape closing in on you.

In September I drove from Salt Lake City to Jackson Hole and up to Yellowstone to go camping, and the landscapes are amazing out there. I’m not surprised that they form the backdrop to so many novels.

The climax of my next novel happens at Yellowstone. It’s an amazing place. Equally so is the Olympic Peninsula that I live in, where [my novel] West of Here is set. I just bought a cabin up in the mountains too, so I’m even closer now. It’s really humbling and mind-boggling and wonderful. There’s a bluff from my house where I can look into the Olympic interior and I can look the other way and I’m looking all the way out over the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Canada. The vistas in the West are just unparalleled. There are also new themes emerging on the West. What West of Here deals with is that more and more we’re having to face our early mistakes, many of which are ecological, and be accountable for early institutions.

"Western Frieze" by Bryan Schutmaat

Throughout the ages people have had different ideas about what the American West represents, but many agree that it harbors a certain mystique born from wilderness. Though much of the West has been populated, paved over, and commercialized, I believe it still retains this mystique in various forms, and to find it means looking from various perspectives. This body of work takes on these perspectives and seeks to update our collective impression of the West by putting forth a vision of Americaʼs landscape that uses roadside culture to convey where the West has been and where itʼs going. Yet by no means are these photos meant to be pure documentation of America and its identity, but rather a portrait of what American identity means to me. And by photographing the West – where enigma, nostalgia, and history can be found in everyday scenes – I hope to help viewers find out what it means to them, whether or not they ever visit these sleepy towns and loneliest of landscapes for themselves.

Armaments, universal debt, and planned obsolescence—those are the three pillars of Western prosperity. If war, waste, and moneylenders were abolished, you’d collapse. And while you people are overconsuming the rest of the world sinks more and more deeply into chronic disaster.
— Aldous Huxley, Island

Link: U.S. is Pushing Iran Toward War

The latest warning by Iran, that a U.S. aircraft carrier that recently transited through the Strait of Hormuz should not do so again, is a sign to the West that should be well-observed. It tells us the regime in Tehran is ready for a fight. Tensions between Iran and the U.S. are so high, a conflagration could be tripped off without either country intending it. This latest spiral of hostility began after the U.S. and its European allies responded to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report on Iran’s nuclear activities by imposing and threatening additional, tougher sanctions. New U.S. measures may drastically cut Iran’s oil revenue. That, in turn, may threaten the Iranian regime’s hold on power. Predictably, then, the ruling clerics are responding with shows of strength to boost solidarity at home. And they can be counted on to accelerate Iran’s nuclear program, which they see as a deterrent to foreign intervention. To escape this self-defeating outcome, the Western powers should imagine how the situation looks from Tehran. In recent months, Iranian protesters have brazenly attacked the U.K. Embassy in Tehran. Iran has claimed to have downed a U.S. drone, put on 10-day war games simulating attacks on U.S. ships, and threatened to push oil prices to $250 a barrel and to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which about 20 percent of all oil trade passes.