At high noon on April 22, one hundred and twenty five years ago today, thousands of people rushed to claim land in the Land Run of 1889. Within hours, the cities of Oklahoma City and Guthrie were formed with populations of more than 10,000 souls. The idea was simple, go quick and take what you want from the the edge of our new empire to expand our new empire. Ironically, a few years earlier America committed to another radical community building experiment and dedicated Yellowstone National Park as the world’s first national park. A declaration of common interest in a common good that no one person could possibly own.
I am fascinated by these two very different exercises. I wonder what forces inspire people to lay claim to patches of earth and fight to the death to retain them (even when such claim and warfare mean decimating Native people with priceless ancient culture). And what inspires people to preserve land for the common good, calling it exceptional, worth preserving for all to share.
One of my favorite new songs is Save The Moon. I wrote and recorded it in Traverse City, Michigan during a composer residency for ISLAND – Institute for Sustainable Living Art & Natural Design. This amazing arts and ecology center is dedicated to connecting people with nature, art and community. They asked me to come stay in their wooded cabin and write new music about The Commons – the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth.
Alone in ISLAND’s quiet November cabin, hearing only faint muzzle pops of distant deer hunters, I thought about a more recent American land run. The Cold War, a fervor that sent us racing to the moon to plant a flag. I recalled stories of secret submarines placing a Russian flag on the ocean floor exactly under the North Pole, claiming the most profitable shipping route on earth once we thaw the polar cap. I wondered, who owned the moon? Because somebody owns the moon, right? And who is going to own and operate the public transit system to space? Who will build the condominiums and sell the luxury cruise packages? Is the moon still a critical concern of the American people, or the new plunder of transnational corporate interest?
Space is the newest edge of empire. I hope we can can see it as more than another patch of ground to claim, divide, sell, and pollute. I hope I’m wrong in thinking that the cold dark side of the moon will become a trash heap for nuclear waste. I hope we will understand the value of a shared moon, clean orbital paths, and natural wonder worth preserving and sharing. Maybe we can be a bit more Swiss.
So I wrote this song as a set of personal questions. Questions about rabid nationalism, manifest destiny, and the immense personal and natural destruction that comes from unchecked private profiteering. My most nagging question is ‘why not more National Park and less Land Run?’ We can be mindful of our irreplaceable as our moon… right? If so, can we decrease the death, drought, and devastations wrought on this earth for the sake of private water, air, oil, and other earthly treasure? Perhaps we can save the moon. I hope so. But for now, we have NASA-funded space barons.