The Wasatch Behind: A national land lottery
I think the Navajos got it right. When you drive across the reservation you see they live dispersed from one another. They are not town people.They live on isolated little farmsteads scattered all across the desert. There is usually a mile or more between neighbors. And most of the farmsteads are not real farms, just a house, a few outbuildings, a small garden, a corral for livestock and a pickup truck or two. Smart people those Navajos. Who could ask for anything more?
Of course there are some inconveniences to living dispersed like that. Most Navajos haul water and firewood and there is no electricity to most of the rancheros. Toilet facilities are outback. Houses are often made in the traditional tribal design but with a propane tank and sometimes a diesel generator snuggled against the house. Roads are dirt and it's a long ways to the grocery store or the school bus stop.
But there are advantages to living dispersed like that. The Navajos respect each other's space and privacy and it's a great way to minimize conflict. People get along better when there's a mile of open space between neighbors. You can't hear the other guy's dog bark or smell what's in his trashcan. You don't have to endure him mowing his lawn at 6 a.m. or hosting a week-long rock-n-roll family reunion. People in the neighborhood don't get on each other's nerves. You don't have to build fences to keep the peace.
And if the neighbor comes home late at night slamming car doors with rap music turned to mind-warping decibels, it doesn't wake you up. Families can work out their differ ences by having family fights in private. You can cuss the dog, yodel at the moon, or improve your marksmanship by shooting at tin cans in the backyard without bothering the neighbors. It's a great way to live.
So why don't we all live like the Navajos? Well, for one thing, the Navajo Nation has a different concept about private and communal property. Navajos are pretty well free to live anywhere they choose on tribal lands. The land is sacred but it was given by the creator to use and make a living from. Access is important. There are roads everywhere on the reservation. Native Americans are no dummies.
Some of us Anglos would like to live that way but we just can't do it here. We have a lot of open space but it's all tied up by the state and federal governments with no more homesteading allowed. Too much red tape, too. I wanted to be a hermit once but found there was a nine-year waiting list just to file an application for a hermit permit. By the time my number came up I had been civilized, socially redeemed and broke to lead. I was out of the notion. I think Edward Abbey got my permit.
I was discussing this with Uncle Spud the other day and he came up with a great idea.
"I think we should give the public lands to the public," he said. "In fact, I think we should nationalize all private property and then divide the whole country up, just to make things fair."
"What are you talking about?" I asked.
"It would work out perfectly," he promised. "There are 3,794,066 square miles of land in the United States and we have a population of 300,000,000. Figure it up and each person gets eight acres. We could have a national land lottery. A family of four would be granted 32 acres. Grandma and Grandpa get 16. After the drawing everyone would be required to live on their own property. It would spread everyone out, reduce smog and road congestion, and we could all get along better than we do today."
"But it wouldn't be fair," I said. "Some people would get Hawaii while others would draw land in some arctic national wildlife refuge with no roads and no drilling."
"That's true," he said. "But we could give wilderness lovers bonus points to help them have a better chance for drawing a choice location like ANWR. The rest of us could take our chances with Waikiki or Palm Beach. It would be tough to live without ice and polar bears, but someone would have to do it."
"Any sacrifice for the good of the country," I agreed.