Since it entered the American consciousness, the Grand Canyon has provoked two major reactions: the urge to protect it, and the temptation to make a whopping pile of money from it. During the years after the Powell expedition, miners rushed into the canyon to lay claims for copper, zinc, silver, and asbestos. During the 1880s one tycoon wanted to turn the bottom of the canyon into a railroad corridor to haul coal from Denver to California. (He drowned in the Colorado, along with two members of his survey expedition.) In the 1950s a mining company tried to get rich by building a giant cableway to move bat guano from a cave and sell it to rose gardeners; that didn’t last long. There was even a government plan to build a pair of giant hydroelectric dams in the heart of the canyon, a project that would have transformed large parts of the Colorado River into a series of reservoirs whose shorelines today would undoubtedly be clotted with houseboats and Jet Skis.
The successful campaign to stop those dams, spearheaded by the Sierra Club during the 1960s, established the idea that the Grand Canyon is inviolable. And yet Pete and I had heard about a range of new proposals—many of them driven by savvy entrepreneurs operating just outside the canyon’s boundaries in areas that were controlled not by the National Park Service but by the U.S. Forest Service or one of the five Native American tribes whose federally recognized reservations are located around the canyon. From every point of the compass, threats ranging from colossal tourist developments and unlimited helicopter tours to uranium mining were poised to spoil one of the world’s premier parks.
I hadn’t thought much of the transition my child had gone through, which had become a simple and natural part of our lives over the past year. It started with wearing more masculine clothes. This was more than fine with me; I was a tomboy at that age, too. Then came a request for a cropped haircut. Again, I’d had short hair before, and I have never been one to police my children’s aesthetics. My deep anxiety about lice infestation, borne of my own childhood experiences, actually made me welcome the choice. Yes, I thought. Give them no safe harbor.
A little while later came the pronoun switch. That was not something I’d experienced before, but still I knew it had become more common, and detaching language from gender seemed perfectly reasonable to me. Why not divorce the language with which people identify you from your genitals? You go, human, I silently applauded.“They/them/their” took some getting used to, of course, and involved a bit of grumbling about poor grammar from my fastidious older daughter, but get used to it we all did.
The idea is that when we’re older, we face an existential reckoning: We can either make peace with our choices, dunderheaded as some might have been, or we can spend our final years in a hair shirt of our own regrets.
Though Ian Brown never says it outright, this struggle lies at the heart of “Sixty: A Diary of My Sixty-First Year,” a great, fat rosebush of a book that’s beautiful and pungent and, at moments, deceptively prickly.
Gopnik’s central argument in this fascinating and passionate diatribe is that modern, affluent societies approach child-rearing in a wrongheaded way. Middle-class families feel under immense pressure to parent our children in such a way that they will turn out right. We speak of good and bad parenting. We shuttle them to football practice and ballet lessons; and later, push them to complete their Duke of Edinburgh awards. We anxiously scrutinise their book bags each night, or feel guilty that we are failing to do so. We worry whether they are getting enough sleep, making enough friends. There’s a tendency to endlessly query our own choices. Are we working too much or too little? Are we protecting them too much or not enough?
For Gopnik, these are simply the wrong questions, because we should not think of looking after children as “parenting” at all. The trouble with parenting, on her reading, is that it treats looking after children as a form of work rather than a form of love. And by treating childcare as work, parents are doomed to feel dissatisfied, because it’s a relentless, thankless, messy, unpaid occupation. But, Gopnik adds, it’s “a pretty great kind of love, at least for most of us”.
Dive bars are the antithesis of change. Regular customers expect the same person to serve them the same drink, and that it will taste the same, the bar will smell the same, and that nothing will ever surprise them there. Sarah Jewell, who managed Seattle’s Central Saloon, called many of her regulars “ritualistic.” But whether it’s ritual, habit, or comfort, dive bars are the opposite of trendy, and the opening of a new bar is the opposite of everything for which the dive bar genre stands.
But entrepreneurs rushed to capitalize on that hard-earned vibe and open places that imitate the same spots that have been gentrified out of a neighborhood. (See practically-dive-themed bars like King’s Hardwareand Montana in Seattle.) The thing is, you can't rush dive bars. Like antiques—or, more appropriately, whiskey and wine—much of the value of a dive bar comes with the passing of time: butt grooves in banquettes, moisture stains on the bar in the shape of one million pint glasses, and a bartender spewing the kind of surliness that requires decades of practice. Dive bars aren’t opened: they evolve.