Monday, June 26, 2017

Some bottomless pits I have known

The Bloo Nellie Mine, north of Wickenburg

By Tom Walker

Once upon a time, I was a serious mineshaft spelunker.
On our JV Bar ranch north of Wickenburg, Ariz., there were rich opportunities for this pastime. Hard-rock treasure hunters around the beginning of the last century had punched dozens of mineshafts into the mountains and valleys of our ranch. Then, when the gold or silver or whatever they were searching for played out, these miners packed up and left nothing behind, except for their spectacularly deep and dangerous and yet irresistibly inviting abandoned mineshafts.
Some of them really deep. Like 500, 800 – even a thousand feet deep. Some were vertical shafts, some were inclined. So it was a great adventure to sneak up on them, as though they were some slumbering dragon, and lob a good softball-sized rock into the darkness of their gaping mouths.
It was always a hazardous adventure. The ground around some of the old mineshafts was extremely unstable. Without warning, it could collapse under your feet, sending you plunging to a deep and terrible death. An awful way to die – but of course, so is skydiving with a bad parachute.
Even so, the lure of mineshafts was so powerful – almost sexual in its appeal to a kid in his early teens -- that even the possibility of dying in one couldn’t keep me away. I had to get up close enough to see what it was like to drop a rock in them.
To see gravity in action, the way Galileo did. The fall of the rock at 32 feet per second per second – the speed of free-falling objects. The hissing sound of the rock approaching terminal velocity, when air resistance and gravity equal out.
And the sound of the rock hitting a wall of the mineshaft, ricocheting into another wall, and then finally, the deep-in-the-earth crash when it hits bottom or the kersploosh if the mine is flooded. Either way, it’s always a held-breath, sweaty-palmed business, as the sounds echo back to the surface. And you stand in a kind of reverence until the dark silence returns to the mineshaft.
So exciting, exhilarating beyond description, to have done this, to have invaded that dark world below without falling into the thing yourself.

Montezuma's "bottomless" well
Unfortunately, my mineshaft spelunking days are over. Age and health problems have permanently sidelined me from that game. But I’m still involved in dropping rocks into deep holes.
The stones I’m lobbing these days are letters and phone calls to the senators and the representative who supposedly work "of" and “by” and “for” me in Congress.
“Supposedly” is the key word here. All three – Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, and Representative Martha McSally – are Republicans. And all three seem more interested in working for the Republican party and their collective lobbyists than for the people they represent.
I’ve been calling and writing to them about many issues in the past, but one issue right now is especially important to me. That’s the House and Senate measures to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.”
The Senate, working in secret, has cobbled together a piece of legislation called the Better Care Reconciliation Act, also known as “Trumpcare.” I call it a despicable piece of thievery that would steal health insurance coverage from millions of Americans and hand over a goldmine in tax cuts to people like Donald Trump who will only use it to get richer. Trump, needless to say, supports the bill wholeheartedly.
Now, I am very careful about my calls and emails to Congress, much as I was about tossing rocks into mineshafts. I don’t hurl insults, rants, or curses. I strictly follow the protocol outlined by people who actually have to answer the phones or read the emails for members of Congress.
“Hi,” I say. “My name is Tom Walker, and I’m a constituent from Tucson, zip code 85***. I don’t need a response. I am opposed to the Senate’s “Better Care Reconciliation Act” and I urge Senator Flake (or McCain) to please vote NO on the act. Thank you.”
And then I lob my message into the gaping hole in the ground known as Congress and listen as it disappears into the darkness. Without a sound, seemingly never hitting bottom.
When I was a child, my parents took us on a vacation trip to numerous attractions in northern Arizona, including the natural phenomenon known as Montezuma’s Well. What it was, was a big hole in the ground with a pool of water at the bottom.
My father described it as a “bottomless well.” Wikipedia describes it as a natural limestone sinkhole, fed by an underground spring that keeps it filled with water even during severe droughts. “The water,” it adds, “is highly carbonated and contains high levels of arsenic.”
Not unlike the bottomless pit of the U.S. Congress. You drop your rock into the chasm and you never hear it hit bottom. Except eventually, they take a vote, and you realize that no one was listening.
It was you falling into the mineshaft, tumbling helplessly through the deep, arsenic-tainted darkness that our government has become.  


Mary Walker Baron said...

A big dystopian but nevertheless brilliant. And it certainly brought back memories.

Leslie said...

Tom, thank you for throwing those rocks, and thank you for inspiring me to do the same. I just left a message with the office of Sen. Bob Menendez. Maybe if enough of us throw rocks into the mineshaft, we will be able to use them to climb up out of the hole we're in.

Tom Walker said...

Thank you, Mary and Leslie. And Leslie, maybe the hole isn't bottomless after all. We'll see in 2018.

Tom Walker said...

One other piece of valuable information from Wikipedia: Montezuma's Well is 368 feet across and 55 feet deep. So unlike Congress, it isn't actually a bottomless pit. Hope this clarifies things.

Mary Walker Baron said...

Good to know. Thanks for the clarification. Also a bit of a comfort.

Tom Walker said...

And now the Senate leaders have postponed a vote on the repeal and steal bill until after the Fourth of July recess. While Congress is out playing, they might hear from some constituents in person, who may give them pause in their zeal to repeal. But then they'll probably also hear from some wealthy donors, so it's easy to guess what will happen next.