April 8, 1997 in Idaho

Squaring Off On The Good Life Nic’s Popcorn Forum Pits Outspoken Historical Figures

By The Spokesman-Review

Edward Abbey hated seeing the Colorado River’s most beautiful canyon drowned by a reservoir. His writing inspired “monkey wrenchers” who’d just as soon blow up dams as look at them.

You’d think that John Wesley Powell, who became an American hero for exploring the raging Colorado, would smile on a guy like that.

But, no.

Powell, in the form of historian Clay Jenkinson, took Abbey to task Monday at North Idaho College.

“Nature exists for human use. I floated the Colorado and I also chose dam sites for it,” the resurrected scientist said to the late author.

“And terrorism, sir, is the worst possible solution to a social state, no matter how diseased.”

The spirited discussion took place as the college kicked off its annual Popcorn Forum. The weeklong series of lectures and discussions uses role-playing to bring to life its theme, “Journey Through Time: The Historical Quest for the Good Life.”

Each day has a different focus. Monday’s was the Quest for Understanding and Connecting with Nature. Jenkinson, a nationally known actor, began with a lecture in which he appeared as Powell.

The explorer wore a wild-looking beard. He had no right arm, having lost it on a Civil War battlefield.

The “small handicap” did not keep him from climbing cliffs above the Colorado, or scaling the government science bureaucracy to become the first head of the U.S. Bureau of Ethnology and later director of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Powell was a social scientist, studying Native American culture and learning 12 Indian languages in the process.

He also was a landscape scientist. He argued that the West should be divided into watersheds, not states, and that no watershed should be allowed to raid another’s rivers. He predicted “a legacy of conflict and litigation over water.”

While he wanted to be remembered as a scientist, most people think of him as an adventurer. Perhaps that’s because he captivated audiences in the 19th century with stories of his explorations, as he did Monday in Boswell Hall.

In 1869 he and his companions faced “scurvy, near starvation, deep, deep fear and doubt” as they headed down a river everyone said could not be floated.

“You cannot know what it’s like to go backwards in a wooden dory down the Colorado River,” he said. “We hadn’t the slightest idea what was around the next bend.”

The exploring spirit was abundant at the afternoon panel discussion.

There was Abbey, played by chemistry teacher Dale Marcy. The author of the “Monkey Wrench Gang” spent 17 years of his life in Western solitude while finding time to enjoy the pleasures of civilization, notably whiskey and women. When Powell derided his environmental philosophy, Abbey responded that “it is to my credit to be a preservationist.”

Primate researcher Jane Goodall, played by attorney Anne Solomon, told of being a London secretary whose love of animals took her to Africa. Her role model as a mother was a chimpanzee named Flo.

Naturalist and climber John Muir, aka Tim Christie, decried “the vice of overindustry and the apathy of luxury.” He insisted that he didn’t want to “lock up” the land, but rather preserve it for human enjoyment.

Botanist David Douglas, who gave the Douglas fir its name, talked excitedly of sending ornamental trees to England to decorate the estates of gentry. He was played by Bob Murray, NIC’s math and science chairman.

And English teacher Chad Klinger was Herman Melville. The author of “Moby Dick” spoke of the search for spiritual values in the physical world.

Jenkinson will reprise his best-known role today as Thomas Jefferson. His 10:30 a.m. lecture at Boswell Auditorium will start the day’s discussions of the Quest for Freedom & Justice.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: PUBLIC INVITED The Popcorn Forum is free and open to the public. More information is available from 769-3316.

This sidebar appeared with the story: PUBLIC INVITED The Popcorn Forum is free and open to the public. More information is available from 769-3316.

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