Nature’s ad­vo­cate

A new bi­og­ra­phy il­lu­mi­nates Ste­wart Udall

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

HE was a poet and a con­nois­seur of Na­tive Amer­i­can art. He was an elo­quent writer who pub­lished nine books, in­clud­ing a New York Times best­seller. He was a climber who as­cended Mount Kil­i­man­jaro in east Africa and Mount Fuji in Ja­pan. He was a rafter who ex­plored the na­tion’s rivers, and a hiker who, in his mid-eight­ies, trekked the fa­mously steep Bright An­gel Trail and cel­e­brated with a mar­tini when he reached the rim of the Grand Canyon. He was an ex­plorer who re­traced the 1500s ex­pe­di­tion of Fran­cisco Vázquez de Coron­ado through the Amer­i­can South­west — ac­com­pa­nied by his book editor, Jac­que­line Kennedy Onas­sis, and spon­sored by a lit­tle­known Ari­zona judge named San­dra Day O’Con­nor.

He was a lawyer who waged a long court bat­tle rep­re­sent­ing thousands of Navajo ura­nium miners and nu­clear weapons work­ers un­wit­tingly ex­posed to ra­di­a­tion. He was a syn­di­cated Newsweek colum­nist who wrote about en­ergy re­form and cli­mate change. He spear­headed the beau­ti­fi­ca­tion of the na­tion’s cap­i­tal with “Lady Bird” John­son that led to the plant­ing of thousands upon thousands of cherry trees, dog­woods, mag­no­lias, and daf­fodils na­tive to the mid-At­lantic re­gion. He trav­eled the world, en­cour­ag­ing other na­tions to con­serve the planet’s re­sources. A Re­nais­sance man, he set in mo­tion the cre­ation of the Na­tional En­dow­ment for the Arts, the Na­tional En­dow­ment for the Hu­man­i­ties, and the Kennedy Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts.

And yet, all of this only be­gins to cap­ture the legacy and ac­com­plish­ments of this re­mark­able pub­lic ser­vant and beloved cit­i­zen of Santa Fe, Ste­wart Lee Udall (1920-2010). Read­ers of Scott Ray­mond Ein­berger’s de­fin­i­tive new bi­og­ra­phy will ap­pre­ci­ate the im­pact this great fig­ure had dur­ing a by­gone era of po­lit­i­cal bi­par­ti­san­ship and civil dis­course. Ein­berger be­lieves Udall has been un­fairly ne­glected in the na­tional di­a­logue of en­vi­ron­men­tal his­tory, cli­mate change, oil in­de­pen­dence, en­ergy sus­tain­abil­ity, and Cold War his­tory. As in­te­rior sec­re­tary for the Kennedy and John­son ad­min­is­tra­tions, Udall was “the high­est-rank­ing pub­lic of­fi­cial fully ded­i­cated to the causes of nat­u­ral re­source con­ser­va­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion.” Ein­berger writes of his de­ter­mi­na­tion to el­e­vate Udall to his right­ful place in his­tory, along­side such en­vi­ron­men­tal icons as Rachel Car­son, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and pres­i­dents Theodore and Franklin Roo­sevelt. “This book is an at­tempt to ex­plain why,” Ein­berger writes, Udall be­longs within that rar­efied club. With Dis­tance in His Eyes: The En­vi­ron­men­tal Life and Legacy of Ste­wart Udall hits the mark.

Most writ­ing about Udall has been nar­rowly fo­cused on his in­te­rior sec­re­tary years, be­tween 1961 and 1969. Ein­berger de­scribes his book as the first “cra­dle-to-grave” bi­og­ra­phy of Udall’s life. From the 1960s un­til his death in 2010, “few in­di­vid­u­als wrote more elo­quently and pas­sion­ately about — or fought more ar­dently for — pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment.”

It is hard to ar­gue with Ein­berger’s premise as he thor­oughly ex­am­ines Udall’s many ac­com­plish­ments. The ar­ray is stun­ning. As a JFK and LBJ cab­i­net mem­ber, Udall “fully em­braced the 1960s en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment and in some ways helped cre­ate it and steer it along.” He was lit­er­ally there at the cre­ation of the U.S. Depart­ment of the In­te­rior, and un­der his stew­ard­ship he ex­panded the na­tional park sys­tem; es­tab­lished the na­tional trails sys­tem; ex­panded the na­tional wildlife refuge sys­tem; mod­ern­ized the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment; es­tab­lished the na­tional wild and scenic rivers sys­tem; and led the pas­sage of the Wilder­ness Act of 1964 — all while bringing ecol­ogy to the fore­front.

A pro­gres­sive Mor­mon Demo­crat from ru­ral Ari­zona, Udall be­gan his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer with a suc­cess­ful bid for Con­gress in 1954. At thir­ty­four years old, he headed to Wash­ing­ton to rep­re­sent a state that at the time had more na­tional parks, more acres of Na­tive Amer­i­can reser­va­tions, and a larger per­cent­age of federally owned and man­aged lands than any other state. Ste­wart and wife Lee — both de­scended from Mor­mon pioneer stock — im­me­di­ately fell in love with Wash­ing­ton. They moved their fam­ily (in­clud­ing son Tom, the cur­rent U.S. se­na­tor from New Mex­ico) to a home in Vir­ginia near the banks of the Po­tomac River that they filled with Na­tive Amer­i­can arts and an­tiq­ui­ties, prompt­ing The Wash­ing­ton Post to once de­scribe its un­usual dé­cor as a “Museum of In­dian Art.” Udall’s lore in­cludes him pad­dling a ca­noe across the Po­tomac to work.

As a con­gress­man, Udall spon­sored leg­is­la­tion to out­law false min­ing claims on fed­eral land through­out the coun­try, which he saw as a loop­hole for de­vel­op­ers to seize pic­turesque land­scapes. He pushed the U.S. For­est Ser­vice to ex­pand its com­mit­ment to out­door recre­ation and pro­tec­tion of wild lands. He pas­sion­ately be­lieved that scenic trails should be avail­able to the pub­lic in ev­ery cor­ner of Amer­ica. He quickly made a name for him­self as a con­ser­va­tion­ist who wrote and spoke against the wide­spread use of pes­ti­cides that were bringing 78 of the na­tion’s nu­mer­ous bird, mam­mal, fish, and am­phib­ian species to the brink of ex­tinc­tion, in­clud­ing the bald ea­gle and the griz­zly bear. “Our lives made us nat­u­ral con­ser­va­tion­ists,” he once wrote about his up­bring­ing in De­pres­sion-era St. Johns, Ari­zona, a tiny arid com­mu­nity on the Colorado Plateau near the New Mex­ico border. “Our par­si­mo­nious land put a

pre­mium on wise stew­ard­ship; so nat­u­rally, re­cy­cling and stretch­ing was a way of life.”

In Con­gress, Udall grav­i­tated to­ward then-Sen. John F. Kennedy be­cause of Kennedy’s ef­forts to re­move cor­rup­tion and rack­e­teer­ing from the na­tion’s la­bor move­ment. Udall es­pe­cially ap­pre­ci­ated how Kennedy sur­rounded him­self with qual­ity peo­ple from across both aisles. Udall also iden­ti­fied with Kennedy as a Catholic po­lit­i­cal out­sider, much as Udall felt him­self to be an out­sider be­cause of his Mor­mon faith. He was one of Kennedy’s ear­li­est sup­port­ers for president, lin­ing up del­e­gates in his home state to sup­port the Mas­sachusetts se­na­tor against Lyn­don John­son at the 1960 Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion, which helped Kennedy to an up­set against the powerful se­nate ma­jor­ity leader. Kennedy re­paid him with the In­te­rior ap­point­ment — Kennedy’s first cab­i­net se­lec­tion — and Udall be­came the first cab­i­net sec­re­tary ever from the state of Ari­zona.

One of Udall’s first rec­om­men­da­tions to Pres­i­den­t­elect Kennedy was that Robert Frost — the po­etry con­sul­tant to the Li­brary of Con­gress — read a poem at the in­au­gu­ra­tion, es­tab­lish­ing a tra­di­tion that many in­com­ing pres­i­dents have con­tin­ued. He also con­vinced Pulitzer Prize-winning au­thor Wal­lace Steg­ner to leave Stan­ford Univer­sity for a se­mes­ter to serve as “writer in res­i­dence” at the Depart­ment of In­te­rior. Udall’s 1963 book, The Quiet Cri­sis, was de­scribed as the first book ever writ­ten about Amer­ica’s en­vi­ron­men­tal his­tory — what Udall called “the land-and-peo­ple story of our con­ti­nent.” A his­to­rian de­scribed it as one of the most im­por­tant books ever writ­ten by a sit­ting politi­cian.

Still, for all of his ac­com­plish­ments, Udall was not with­out his de­trac­tors within the en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment of the day. Udall’s com­pli­cated and vac­il­lat­ing ad­vo­cacy for dam build­ing was most leg­en­dar­ily at odds with Sierra Club di­rec­tor David Brower. Udall once ex­plained his pro-dam views: “I in­stinc­tively iden­ti­fied my val­ues more with the Sierra Club than with dam-build­ing, ex­cept that I was from Ari­zona, and so you had to be for water.” He also be­lieved the dams of the West pro­vided water nec­es­sary to al­low im­pov­er­ished Na­tive Amer­i­cans to ir­ri­gate their reser­va­tions, and that a bal­ance was nec­es­sary be­tween dams and wild rivers. While Ein­berger ju­di­ciously ad­dresses th­ese con­tro­ver­sial as­pects of Udall’s some­times con­flict­ing agen­das, he leaves the crit­i­cism to other bi­og­ra­phers to judge.

With Dis­tance in His Eyes is an im­pres­sive dive into the life and times of a West­ern na­tive son. That it is an un­abashed valen­tine is some­thing that most Santa Feans will wel­come and ea­gerly em­brace.

With Dis­tance in His Eyes: The En­vi­ron­men­tal Life and Legacy of Ste­wart Udall by Scott Ray­mond Ein­berger is pub­lished by Univer­sity of Nevada Press.

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