Guest opinion: John Wayne, more than a marina

  • Wednesday, April 21, 2021 1:30am
  • Opinion

In his 1904 novel “Of Cabbages and Kings,” O. Henry introduced the phrase “banana republic” to describe a fictional country that mirrored Honduras. “El Pulpo,” the octopus, was the name he gave to the United Fruit Company — a real enterprise that, through bribes, purchases and corrupt practices owned and controlled the entire nation.

Briefly, “banana republic” describes a regime that favors those who govern over those being governed.

Now the phrase is trending across all media. George W. used it to describe the horror of a recent American insurrection. Reps. Gallagher (R-WI) and Kinzinger (R-IL) also invoked the description, the latter suggesting that America might be “ … a failed state.”

Clallam County’s multiple environmental protection failures are signaling that banana republicanism is creeping into our lives. There’s big trouble in Eden. It will require grit — true grit — for citizens to stand up against the government ineptitude threatening the natural beauty we all love.

Angling pals tell me that Washington state fisheries managers don’t even know how to bait a hook, let alone plan for what’s best for a species.

Our Orcas continue to struggle. There’s less to eat and more perils, another natural crisis sitting ignored on bureaucratic doorsteps.

Midway Metals, halfway between Sequim and Port Angeles, has been draining toxic laden effluent into the Strait for more than 10 years. There’s been no effective intervention by any branch of Clallam County government.

Forest managers haven’t learned anything from an expanding disaster in British Columbia. Monoculture tree re-plantings have allowed the bark beetle to prosper and now attack all trees. These pests are heading southward — and they don’t need passports.

Over a period of five years, my neighbors and I have watched a pristine wetland near East Sequim Bay Road be systematically destroyed. The county’s well-washed hand-wringing just hasn’t been enough to stop this view-improving slaughter. What could be more alarming? Perhaps that Department of Community Development officials told this scofflaw landowner how to bypass a hearing examiner’s required land restoration requirements.

Ask a county resident to define “good old boy” and nearly all would associate the term with county government.

I’ve witnessed the spirit — the grit — we need to save our Eden. John Wayne’s dream of paradise was being aboard the Wild Goose with friends and family, watching the sunset’s reflections on Sequim Bay. Clallam County was his refuge.

In the early 1960s, the Duke was quietly holding forth at a New Year’s Eve party in Madrid. Weeks before, he had almost been burned to death by an incompetent special effects “expert” on the set of Circus World. He tossed Rita Hayworth over his shoulder and carried her out of the inferno, a scene that certainly tops anything offered in that dreadful movie.

Any discussion of his heroism was cut off.

He was asked if he enjoyed being constantly watched and followed under Franco’s iron dictatorship. Fascism was flourishing in Spain, Franco being the only remaining European ruler who had eagerly cooperated with Hitler. Picasso wouldn’t allow “Guernica” to be displayed inside Spain’s borders. All foreigners were under surveillance. Even my paltry comings and goings were noted by the hotel portera and the Guardia Civil.

The Duke’s face turned to stone. A downward glance. A long pause. After a deep drag on his always-present cigarette, he said: “Ain’t Spain just the damnedest place?”

And there it was: the defiant grin, the half closed eyes drilling through you — the Ringo Kid. Big Jake. Rooster Cogburn. John Wayne! Try to beat me up. You’ll never beat me down.

Within months, the Duke would lose a lung to cancer. He went on to give us 24 more characters — 24! All battered, all defiant, all wearing that hard grin until victorious.

Is Clallam County becoming a “damnedest place,” a place where ignoring the rules of preservation is an every day event?

It might be time to engage the best weapon against entrenched officials: Humor. Rather than celebrating Earth Day (April 22) in Clallam County, let’s declare it to be The Banana Festival to defy creeping banana republicanism.

In honor of the day, Port Angeles’ name will be changed to El Puerto de Los Angeles. Calypso music and steel drums will prevail. Stocks of bananas will be paraded down First Street and loaded on the Coho. Maybe a John Wayne film festival!

Most importantly, a Top Banana trophy will be awarded to the official who has done the most to ruin Clallam County’s pristine environment.

Walllllll Pilgrims, there’s no bugle to blow, no wagons to circle, no posses to call. But isn’t it time to summon the Duke’s spirit?

“There are some things (you) just can’t run away from.” — The Ringo Kid, “Stagecoach” (1939)

Greg Madsen lives in Blyn and counts several trees among his friends.

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