By: Gary Paul Nabhan
Published: March 29, 2010
On Saturday, March 20, the West lost Stewart Udall, one of the greatest conservationists this region has given to the world. The man exemplified vision and decency, conservation and consilience, in an era when conflict and entrenchment have become all too common.
As Congress fought bitterly over health care reform that same weekend, voting almost entirely upon party lines, I remembered a story that Udall told me as we celebrated his 80th birthday at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nev., in 2000. I had asked him about Barry Goldwater, the great conservative curmudgeonly Republican senator from Arizona, who reigned while Udall was still a young Democratic congressman from the same state. Did he have to cajole Goldwater to vote for conservation measures? His answer — roughly paraphrased here — surprised me.
“I never doubted that Barry loved the land. He spent his younger days roaming around, photographing much of the West. We didn’t always vote the same way, but we were friends. The entire Arizona delegation to Congress — both Democrat and Republican — regularly got together to see what we could get done by collaborating across the aisle. We’d even golf or share martinis together after hours. The deep divide we see in Congress today is a relatively recent phenomenon.”