Thursday, July 24, 2014

Leaving Something of Ourselves Behind

A friend of mine who teaches strategic thinking and consults for organizations from time to time estimates that 2% to 3% seem to come by this skill naturally.

It was probably embedded beginning at age 3 in the way their parents and grandparents schooled them in pre-school foundational skills.

The professor estimates the percentage rises to 10% at college graduation and then levels off.  He finds it curious that so many  that pick it up naturally studied history in college, not business.

I’m not surprised, really.

Interest in history is piqued during those very early years, and when studied,becomes a way to make connections and see patterns in the world.  It’s about looking back to see forward, all foundations of strategic insight.

Maybe a required course in historical analysis should be required in business schools.

Driving  home from giving a lecture in the mountains earlier this week,  a passage penned by Dr. Peter Bieri for a “philosophical thriller (smile)” and published under the name name Pascal Mercier kept running through my mind:

We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away.

And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there (Night Train to Lisbon.)”

When my paternal great-grandparents and grandparents homesteaded the ancestral ranch the shadow of the Tetons, where I was born and lived until the age of accountability, only one had Idaho roots dating to when it became a territory during the Civil War.

At the time, only 20% of Americans lived outside of the state in which they were born.  Today, it is 33%, half of college graduates by the time they are thirty but only 17% of high school dropouts according to the research in the book The New Geography of Jobs by UC-Berkley economist Dr. Enrico Moretti.

The book is an excellent primer on economic development.

When my paternal great-grandparents and grandparents homesteaded ancestral ranch more than a hundred years ago in the shadow of the Tetons where I was born and lived through the age of accountability, it was so the younger generation could afford land of their own

Only one had Idaho roots dating to when Idaho became a territory during the Civil War but all of them had been born in the Rocky Mountains.

Idaho, at the time, had fewer than 2 persons per square mile, “the census classification for frontier.”  At the time, only 20% of Americans lived outside the state where they were born.

Today, it is only 33% including half of college graduates by the time they are thirty but only 17% of high school dropouts according to the research in the book The New Geography of Jobs by UC-Berkley economist Dr. Enrico Moretti.

Homesteading land made available by the federal government back then worked much as a “relocation credit” Moretti proposes for today.

Homesteaders in the first two decades of Idaho statehood anticipated the routes of soon-to-be-laid railroads which those companies, such as the Oregon Short Line, actively promoted through intensive marketing.

Founded by Union Pacific, “short line” stood for the shortest route between Wyoming and Oregon but by 1889 that railroad was laying tracks north to Ashton four miles from our ranch, then by 1908 up 57 miles over the Rea’s Pass across the Continental Divide to the western gateway to Yellowstone Park.

By 1912, a spur had also been laid from Ashton southeast to Victor where connections were made over the Tetons and up the Jackson Hole to the southern entrance to Yellowstone and the much anticipated creation of Grand Teton National Park.

In 1954, my entire elementary school took a field trip along that spur behind a steam engine a few years before the demise of the Yellowstone Special and the Yellowstone Express passenger trains, one from Chicago and one from Los Angeles.

It was the end of an era but the old rail lines are now being leveraged into another kind of economic development.

Abandoned rail lines are now trails throughout Idaho including the two routes out of Ashton, a thirty mile rail-to-trail along the length of the Tetons and the 34 mile Yellowstone Branch Line Trail through the canyons of the Henry’s Fork from Warm River to the Divide.

In 1896, when Butch Cassidy and his Hole in the Wall Gang robbed a bank in Montpelier, Idaho near where my maternal grandparents would live during my early years, my paternal ancestors were still living just across the Bear River Range.

Soon they headed north to homestead against the Tetons when Idaho barely had 160,000 residents, after the National Forests were first established but before Targhee National Forest was created up behind the ranch in 1908.

But in 1906, Congress responded to powerful special interests by gutting some of the national forests and reopening some of the less forested land to homesteading through the Forest Homesteading Act.

Public use back then did not include recreation and although only 1.8 million acres were eventually patented for homesteads, the act effectively pried 12 million acres away for developers.

In all, by WWII, only 19% of public land had actually been leveraged into  homestead ranches and farms.

When the first of six transcontinental railroads began to tunnel through the Bitterroot Mountains of Northern Idaho, there were less than a thousand non-native people living there.  By 1900, there were more than 10,000 living in each of the two counties through which I’ll soon pass.

Many had moved there because of inexpensive public land given to the railroads and then sold to settlers before construction crews even began grading.  By 1900, these land sales reached 105,000 acrese a year.

That’s the year the lumbering industry arrived after depleting stands in the upper Midwest.  Before 1891, the land from near Spokane, across to Montana and north to Lake Pend Oreille belonged to the Coeur d’Alene Indians, about 500,000 acres left of their ancestral lands by treaty.

Responding to special interests, all but 70,000 acres was pried away.  Even given the Forest Homesteading Act, settlers were soon overrun by lumber “robber barons,” some through legal means, but much of it through fraud.

As I drive down from Lookout Pass and across northern Idaho again, three things will be on my mind.

First is that one day, we need to build in time to detour down the St. Joe River Scenic Byway along a series of Forest Service roads, hopefully astride my Harley Cross Bones.  For now, having Mugs along and my grandson’s eagerness to get to the lake take precedent.

Second is how ironic it is that the route of the Milwaukee Road’s old Hiawatha passenger train is now a 15-mile trail in Idaho alone from Lookout Ski Areas to Pearson for trail bikes and hikers, alternative forms of National Forest economic development.

Another rails-to-trails adaptation is rated one of the 25 best in the nation, a 72 mile asphalt Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes greeneway from the Tribe’s reservation at Plummer, along its namesake lake and up to the early 1850s Cataldo Mission before ending in Mullan.

One of the most spectacular views during my hiking days was heading up the St. Jo River north of St. Maries to its headwaters, a must for fans of the book The Big Burn.

One or the Forest Service heroes of the firestorm, 25-year-old Joe Halm, took his crew to safety there.  Little did I know as we hiked that stretch, that a few years earlier, a group of University of Montana students had climbed up the other side.

Well into a second century of controversy over Northern Idaho logging on public lands, they have been advocating for over 40 years for the roadless area to be set aside as a 275,000 acre wilderness area straddling each side of the Bitterroots.

Third, is what will soon be two Tribal Casinos on the plains above Spokane, near the original Longhorn (southern pit-style) Barbeque restaurant, one a leisure and convention resort opened by Idaho’s Kalispel Tribe and nearly through the approval process by the Spokane Tribe, just desserts I suppose.

To paraphrase Pascal Mercier,There are things in us that we can find again only by going back to the places were we have left parts of ourselves behind.”

Thanks for keeping me company.

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