|Mike Medberry, a lifelong conservationist, returns to the scene of the stroke that changed his life, but not his passion.
Photo by Doug Schnitzspahn
In an instant, Mike Medberry went from being one of Craters of the Moon’s biggest defenders to begging to be rescued from its grip. While on a walk through the desolate national monument east of Carey 12 years ago, Medberry was taken down by a stroke, without warning, immobile in the lava rock and without any companion in sight.
The conservationist spent the next decade resetting his inner compass, defining new pathways to his memory and discovering his will.
The freelance writer recently completed his memoir, “On the Dark Side of the Moon,” which he will discuss Thursday, Dec. 6, at The Community Library in Ketchum at 6 p.m., with books provided by Chapter One Bookstore. He answered a few questions from the Idaho Mountain Express before the event.
IME: Who did you write this for?
I wrote it for myself, naturally. But I hope that it may be useful to others. Every book is written first for its author and then for other readers. We are all looking for ourselves when we write. Think of Ernest Hemingway’s “In Our Time” as he is writing about his war experiences and bull fighting. That is an early book and I think it is his best. Why? Because it is damned honest. He wrote it for himself as a man who was seeking to understand the war, its brutality, women, and bravery.
Or think of Carole King’s recent autobiography. It is a depiction of her career, but it tells of difficult things in her life that she overcame. These things are an inspiration for me and they are why I consider Carole’s book a good one.
My book is about recovering from a stroke and seeing that the land at Craters is also recovering from abuse, both the obvious volcanism and the less obvious human-created damage. I have written the book for myself and any other people who can relate to what I’ve written. It is not for everybody and I wouldn’t expect it to appeal to everyone.
“On the Dark Side of the Moon” is about finding recovery in a world that may seem bleak and dark, but when you really look at it there is beauty and wonder across all of life. There are two sides of the moon!
This is definitely an homage to Craters, which you describe in romantic detail. You, through the Idaho Conservation League, worked hard to get it seen as you saw it, and then, at the critical juncture, you are taken out of the picture. What was happening behind the scenes for the monument?
The monument was expanded by President [Bill] Clinton while I was recovering from my stroke and that went the way that [Interior] Secretary [Bruce] Babbitt had negotiated on it. There wasn’t really a triumphant moment because the management of Craters of the Moon was spread out over many years. The University of Idaho had put out a study of management of the area in about 1990 as several possibilities, one of which was the national monument, another was a national conservation area and a third was a national preserve.
Idaho Governor Evans had sent a letter about Craters to Bruce Babbitt in 1994 stating the values of Craters that made it qualified as a larger national monument. When Babbitt saw an opportunity to expand Craters of the Moon as a political boon that might help advance Vice President Al Gore to the presidency, he recommended it to President Clinton and they did it. Clinton designated the monument after a number of hearings and meetings between ranchers and the Department of Interior.
Then, Rep. [Mike] Simpson changed the national monument to a national monument and preserve in successful legislation. That was the right decision to manage Craters in the way that President Clinton had proclaimed. No one challenged Simpson’s legislation and it was a stronger way, ultimately, to protect Craters because it represented a wider spectrum of supporters.
I was only a small part in that evolution and it took my trips into Craters to realize that this was the truth.
Ranchers aren’t as bad as they once seemed to you—the need for compromise and listening better seems to have been pushed to the front of your thinking. You didn’t lose your passion, you just seem to have a different fairness. Is that true?
Yes, I‘ve gained compassion but haven’t lost my passion. When we speak about cattle ranching, I still think more about buffalo. When we think about domestic sheep, I think about bighorns and pronghorns. I’ve always liked ranchers; they’re some of the most interesting and educated people I know. And really, ranchers know more about the wild country than most other people who don’t live or go out to wild places. We’ve always been kindred spirits, in my opinion. But there is a lot of room for listening to and compromising on our opinions.
What has changed in me is that I feel more compelled to hear what is at the root of differences among people. I understand that each person brings her or himself into the debates.
As an example, I don’t think that wolves are a problem for you or sheep a problem for me to fix, because, in this human world, it is all of us who have to fix everything that we collectively believe in. And we each believe in different things, which means that we all have to compromise some. We are all such a bundle of contradictions and misunderstandings! Listening and communicating about ourselves is the key to resolving many of these tangled disagreements.
Now that you have mostly recovered, are there things you’re doing differently?
I take one small, coated aspirin once a day, religiously. I’ve come to like myself and that implies that living life as if every moment might be my last is OK by me. It’s reality. When I laid out in Craters on a piece of lava with the sun going down I lived by the second. It was intense living. I’ve become confident about knowing what I can accomplish and it is much less than it used to be because I’m more realistic.
What’s next for you, for Craters?
A regular job would be nice, I suppose … Also, I would love to see the wilderness study areas in the monument be protected permanently as wilderness and others be released for some appropriate development.
Meet the author
Who: Mike Medberry, author of “On the Dark Side of the Moon.”
When: Thursday, Dec. 6, at 6 p.m.
Where: The Community Library in Ketchum.
Extras: Craters of the Moon is open through winter with snowshoeing, skiing and other adventures. Check with www.nps.gov/crmo/planyourvisit/events.htm.