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Once again the ancient Greek philosopher who argued that change is the only constant continues to be validated. New allies see for the first time the true shape of each other's faces only in the shadow of the new common enemy--now density and intensification.

The new contest is over space--the physical, horizontal notion--and the proper definition of place. Our country was founded and directed to economic prosperity by Western European culture, an outlook that saw the greatest financial, therefore human, good in the increase in density of utility-- the more per unit (of anything, time, space, monetary unit), the better. It is the founding and driving force of the Industrial Revolution.

As the units important to popular culture become smaller (in proportion to the shrinkage of the computer chip, the CD, the cell phone), space becomes redefined. Ranchettes seem expansive to urbanites with the greatest economic power. And great expanses unused in the modern sense of utility seem a waste. They must be subdivided and diversified to meet the shrinking sense of openness.

Irony abounds. As our core economy shifts from the production of large durable goods to the mass distribution of tiny units of convenience (internet service, minutes of cell phone usage, cans of Diet Coke, cups of Starbuck coffee--to be marketable even durable goods must partake of these new necessities), novelty gains a more influential seat at the table. One of the current novelties is the false sense of place. Everyone who can afford it now needs a place, not where we are, but where we are not. If we make money in New York, we need our PLACE at a ranchette in Montana. If you could see what is happening in the Gallatin Valley around Bozeman, it would break your heart. A growing problem is that too many have bought into the mutant sense of place.

So, where do we find the old sense of openness? Perhaps one of the last of a human sense? Ranching, of course. Grazing is the last human activity that cannot be reduced. The math will always be the same. A cow needs so many acres in a given place. There is and always will be only so much grass per acre in that place over time. Even in perfect conditions only so many grass plants will grow in that place. The new realization is this: the math makes room for other living things. Sure, mistakes have been made. Overgrazing has been bad, but at least its consequences are more quickly apparent and remediated. Ted Turner is the new hero.

And here we are, NPLT, with open space as our mission. Interesting.


Steven W. Sanford