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Memories of Myra McCormick

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By John Bartlit

CLASSIC ESSAY

This month marks 10 years since the passing of Myra McCormick of Silver City, N.M. Her legacy grows. As her lasting gift to The Nature Conservancy, the sturdy friend of the environment left to them the guest ranch she owned and operated for 41 years. A visit to www.bear

mountainlodge.com shows the lodge today, with its old luster revived. Click on “About the Lodge” to bring its history and McCormick’s  photograph. Our history with this spunky woman first appeared in the Monitor on Sept. 15, 1991. Enjoy again the vigor and skill McCormick demonstrated, so local birds, migratory birds and paying travelers alike might extend their stays in her inviting spaces.

                                                   

Today we praise Myra McCormick. In a world of all sorts, she sits in the section reserved for the good and the strong when she takes time to sit at all.

     Ageless but not young, McCormick runs a guest ranch outside of Silver City. She was a modern-style citizen environmentalist before the concept existed. By the early 1970’s, she was pulling water samples out of Whitewater Creek near the Kennecott smelter and sending them to state agencies in Santa Fe for pollution tests.

     She is part Miss Marple, part Margaret Thatcher, and part Thelma Ritter, that old-time player in Western movies. And a master bird-watcher in the bargain.

     She was among the first to join and to speak for our citizens group in a corner of New Mexico where the big employer was the big polluter – not a step for the weak-willed. To quote Maggie Thatcher’s words to George Bush before Operation Desert Storm, McCormick was never one to “go wobbly.”

     Among the great treats of my years with the green cause are the three or four weekends spent at her Bear Mountain Ranch when environmental work took us her way. It is a four-star outing for anyone of like mind.

     That’s Myra.

     By the 1990’s, twists of law and circumstances made her a prominent figure in our group’s water pollution suit against her hometown copper company. The clean air and water laws say citizen groups have no rights in court unless they have a member with some proximity to the pollution violations. McComick was such a member. The fight for this small point lasted over a year.

     Believing her to be key, armies of corporate lawyers set out to prove her a fabrication, but a puppet turned by foreign winds. This takes some doing. They might easier prove the first Navajo were carpetbaggers and the Apache were peddlers of band instruments.

     The harsh legal interrogations she withstood lead to my all-time favorite story about her. A few days after her ordeal, three leaders of our group found ourselves with McCormick in the dwindling light in front of her great stone fireplace.

     The topic was Whitewater Creek – a popular bird hangout and the site of the pollution that forced our lawsuit. McCormick ticked off three or four prized species found there. In our chat, their vivid names struck us as precise and catching. In court, the names struck the opposing force as brutal and baffling.

     Imagine: Two or three defense lawyers sit behind a grand table and quiz McCormick about her alleged use of the creek. Soon she has them tangled up with “...the chestnut-collared longspur, the horned lark, and the long-eared owl, maybe the sage thrasher.”

     At rates near $150 an hour, the sage questioners confer in a hush and scratch on pads, naked as jaybirds on McCormick’s turf. The court reporter struggles to copy the fancy names and keeps a straight face.

     Thus, by a longspur is our arduous quest for legal standing won.

     I laugh in waves. First, at the big team hunkered down from a rush of bird life. I howl at the system’s excesses, kept by habit. Legal minds and dollars put to stalking minutiae help no one – not the environment, not society, not corporations, not even legal careers.

     With rare simplicity, Myra McCormick shows us how to disenthrall ourselves. She does the species proud.