America: Stories for The New York Times
Weekends with the President's Men
ST. MICHAELS, MARYLAND
JUNE 30, 2006--JUST an hour and a half from Washington, across the 4.3-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge, or less than 30 minutes in a government-issue Chinook helicopter, is the Eastern Shore of Maryland and the primly groomed waterside village of St. Michaels.
St. Michaels has begun to lure V.I.P.'s who, some boosters would have it, could propel it into the gilded realm of the Hamptons and Nantucket. But that will take a while. There's little for the young — just a few bars and no beaches or nightclubs — and these new householders are too circumspect and perhaps too old to be showcasing their excesses, baubles and abs.
One is Vice President Dick Cheney, 65, who paid $2.67 million last September for a house that resembles a wide, squat Mount Vernon. Another is his old friend Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, 73, who in 2003 paid $1.5 million for a brick Georgian that was last a bed-and-breakfast. Among other recognizable owners in the area are Tony Snow, President Bush's new press secretary; Joe Trippi, Howard Dean's presidential campaign manager in 2004; Nicholas Brady, President George H. W. Bush's treasury secretary; and John S. D. Eisenhower, a writer and historian and the son of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
St. Michaels, population 1,200 within the city limits and perhaps a thousand more in the same ZIP code, sits on the wrist of a peninsula that bends deep into Chesapeake Bay. With two broad clawlike fingers, spotted and wrinkled by coves and creeks that reach beyond the town and down to Tilghman Island and Nelson Point, it is a place of waterfront sunsets and white sails, of oysters and crabs, of birding, fishing and hunting, and of affluent retirees, tourists and weekenders. Most, like the Cheneys and Rumsfelds, are past 50…
With many less luminous who have made their marks in business, medicine, law, government and the military, St. Michaels is too proud and indifferent for celebrity gawking. "They're just people living in town," said the Hawaiian shirted bartender at the Carpenter Street Saloon, who thought giving his name would be indiscreet. "They're not the first important people living in town, and they're not the last. They're just here."
The town is beginning to contend, however, with 21st-century perils to its composure. After eight years of resistance, construction will soon start on a development that will bring around 250 new homes and swell the year-round population by about 50 percent. In summer, traffic is choking and decivilizing Talbot Street, the only road through town. Housing developments are crowding Tilghman Island, once almost exclusively home to fishermen — or watermen, as they're called.
One morning in May, Francis Zeglen put on a khaki windbreaker and his wife, Georgia, a turquoise sweater for a shopping stroll along Talbot. They were in a crosswalk when a light-brown pickup knocked them down.
Urged not to move, they were lying there blinking, Mr. Zeglen, 76, on his back, Mrs. Zeglen, 78, on her side. The Rev. Mark Nestlehutt, a tall young sailor and the rector of Christ Episcopal Church, hurried over, not solely on a spiritual mission. He is also chairman of the town's Advisory Committee for Traffic Planning and Pedestrian Friendly Streets — which, in a place with a speed limit of 25 miles an hour and few hot-blooded young drivers, they usually are.
The Zeglens were treated at a hospital in nearby Easton, he for a broken left arm, she for immobilizing bruises, and drove home to Philadelphia the next day. "I turned and looked," Mr. Zeglen said when he gave his own account of the accident, "and he just kept coming." The driver of the pickup was charged with failure to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk. It had been a more eventful morning than most, the first pedestrian accident in 23 years — at least the first that the town manager, Cheril S. Thomas, could recall.
In St. Michaels, you also don't see much of the one-upping of Joneses or architectural bullying found in showier coastal resorts. The old farm families and the wealthy weekenders like the Rumsfelds and Cheneys look out over acres of lawn rolling down to the sea grass and their own private docks. But the homes are hidden down two-lane roads with cunning yellow signs on utility poles that say, menacingly and untruthfully, "No Outlet," and then down driveways shrouded by trees and lined with thick and impenetrable hedgerows.
The houses have names. Mr. Rumsfeld's is Mount Misery and is just across Rolles Creek from a house called Mount Pleasant. On four acres, with four bathrooms, five bedrooms and five fireplaces, built in 1804, the Rumsfeld house is just barely visible at the end of a gravel drive.
Thomas M. Crouch, a broker at the Coldwell Banker office in town, says one legend attributes the name to the original owner, said to have been a sad and doleful Englishman. His merrier brother then built a house, and to put him on, Mr. Crouch supposes, named it Mount Pleasant.
But there is some historical gravity to the name, too. By 1833, Mount Misery's owner was Edward Covey, a farmer notorious for breaking unruly slaves for other farmers. One who wouldn't be broken was Frederick Douglass, then 16 and later the abolitionist orator. Covey assaulted him, so Douglass beat him up and escaped. Today, where the drive begins, Mount Misery seems a congenial place, with a white mailbox with newspaper delivery sleeves attached, a big American flag fluttering from a post by a split-rail fence and a tall, one-hole birdhouse of the sort made for bluebirds — although the lens in the hole suggests another function.
Less than two miles from the Rumsfelds', past Southwind, where the late James A. Michener wrote much of his epic novel "Chesapeake," Church Neck Road dead-ends at private Fuller Road on the left. About a quarter-mile up, past grazing cattle and sheep and four other homes, is Vice President Cheney's nine-acre place, Ballintober.
The house, built in 1930, is rambling and white. It has a five-car garage, a pool, stately formal gardens, a laundry chute and large, glass-walled waterside rooms for entertaining. Coldwell Banker's real estate listing called it an "individually designed dwelling." It is also unapproachable. "The last time I went up Fuller Road," Katie Edmonds, an agent at Meredith Real Estate, said, "S.U.V.'s came out of the woods at me."
Neighbors also complain about federal security agents' shutting down Church Neck Road to let the Cheneys pass in their speeding brigades of shiny black S.U.V.'s. But they don't complain much, because the newcomers are thought to be good for property values. If the Cheneys and Rumsfelds are willing to buy here, after all, who wouldn't be?
St. Michaels was traditionally a center of farming, boat building, crabbing and tonging for oysters. For 100 years, it has also attracted older, upper-crust retirees from Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia who buy waterfront sites and, more recently, century-old houses downtown.
The second-home owners cannot vote in local elections, but their needs, whimsies and appetites set the tone of the town. Approaching St. Michaels, Route 33 — the only way in or out — passes a lumberyard's lawn full of rocking chairs. In the town itself, where 33 becomes Talbot Street, a flag hanging from one store declares, "Quilters welcome." There are at least 20 bed-and-breakfasts downtown or nearby, no neon signs, no stoplights and, except for the plants and waist-high pink ceramic flamingos that the Acme supermarket features in front, no obstructions blocking sidewalks.
Except for the Acme, shops on Talbot cater to people with money to burn: the Calico Gallery, St. Michaels Candy Company, the Cultured Pearl, the Scented Garden, Rings & Things, Gourmet-by-the-Bay (an upscale food shop and caterer that has made Thanksgiving pies for the Rumsfelds), Justine's ice cream parlor, Flying Fred's Gifts for Pets. Bistro St. Michaels and 208 Talbot are expensive restaurants.
Only Big Al's — an emphatically lowbrow seafood and souvenir shop where Joyce Rumsfeld, the secretary's wife, comes in for bushels of cooked blue crabs — breaks with the Laura Ashley look of St. Michaels. Two small picnic tables sit out front, and the proprietor, Al Poore, offers sandwiches of crab cake for $5.95, soft crab for $6.95, oysters for $5.95 and fish for $4.95. Mr. Poore, who is 71 and about 6 foot 4 with a thicket of tousled gray hair, sinks like a ball in a catcher's mitt into the cavernous black leather easy chair in his memento-strewn office at the rear of the store. He opened it in 1968. "When I came here," he said, "there was one place where you could stay overnight. Now we've got one on every corner."
Merchants say they're wary of intruding on the privacy of the Cheneys and Rumsfelds, but they do it anyway. "I'm a businessman," said Mr. Poore, a registered Democrat who voted twice for George W. Bush. "I probably mention them to customers five or six times a week. They bring a lot of prestige."
Paul Gardner, the front office manager at the $250-to-$700-a-night Inn at Perry Cabin, a plush waterside resort at the far end of town, said, "We've had Rumsfeld in for dinner." Once last year, the Cheney Chinook landed near the inn's laundry and maintenance facility. "We're very pleased to have them in the area," he said.
Some people view the new neighbors less cordially. On Railroad Avenue, which the Cheneys and Rumsfelds use to reach Church Neck, Cassandra Harrison, a mother of two who waits tables and cleans houses, was resting on the stoop of her one-story white ranch house.
She is grateful that the air space above the Cheneys' house is blocked. "It's a no-fly zone, and that's good," she said. "But I'm not happy. I don't think society's liking them so much." Ms. Harrison, 23, voted for the first time in 2004, she said, "just because I did not want him. I don't think that they tell us the truth."
But that is a minority view in Talbot County, which went 61 percent for Mr. Bush in 2000 and 58 percent in 2004. Support for the war in Iraq is waning here as it is most everywhere else. But the great majority of Mr. Nestlehutt's 790 parishioners, he said, are "tolerant," live-and-let-live urban Republicans, not hard-core social conservatives. Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld, he said, seem to fit right in.
Scottsdale Journal; Alive, Well and on the Prowl, It's the Geriatric Mating Games
MARCH 7, 2004--More than 100 merry widows in glittering dresses and golden, high-heeled shoes and men in string ties and saddle shoes step out from their Buicks and Fords at the senior center in downtown Scottsdale. In the auditorium, the lights go down low and the band hits fast-stepping strains of Gershwin and Porter.
A man's tremors from Parkinson's disease stop cold when he clutches a woman in black leather pants for a Viennese waltz. Betty Seely, a widow who is 75, jitterbugs in snappy synchrony with Dennis Murray, 64, her regular partner. He spins her out and reels her in, making her wide purple skirt swirl as high as her waist.
A whistle blows. It's Ladies' Tag. Single women surge from the sidelines to cut in on the single men. Beatrice Miller, a widow somewhere past 60, sits it out. ''I'm not looking to get married,'' she said.''I would have to get a toy boy. Anyone older than me would be too old.''
Love and loneliness and a little lust, too, are in this air -- old love, new love, the love of dancing and touching. People in their 60's up to their 90's, more of them single than married, come for the joy of the dance. And if a liaison ensues, ''well,'' said Betts Carter, 66, a divorcée at a dance in Mesa, ''that's just a plus.''
The elderly go dancing in the Phoenix area every night. They are not alone -- as many surveys have shown, romance and lovemaking thrive among about half of Americans in their 60's and beyond.
In proliferating Internet chat rooms and forums, in medicine cabinets of sex-enhancing drugs and wrinkle creams, in cruises just for them, in dating services and newspaper personal advertisements under ''Seniors Seeking Seniors,'' in shacking up instead of remarrying, romance in old age has come in from the cold.
''We can still appreciate a nice bod,'' said Joan Shafer, the widowed, 75-year-old mayor of Surprise, a fast-growing town northwest of Phoenix. ''Just because we are the age we are, it doesn't mean we don't have fantasies.'' Mike Baumayr, an advertising executive in Phoenix who specializes in the elderly, said, ''You now have permission to be sexual.''…
But if anything is putting a damper on elderly romance, it is this: women's slim pickings. As Ms. Miller of Scottsdale would put it, single men are scarce, and toy boys -- healthy, ambulatory men in their 60's -- are scarcer still.
The 2000 Census found 20.6 million women 65 and older and 14.4 million men, or 10 women for 7 men. In Sun City, near Phoenix, the median age was 75, and there were three times more widowed and divorced women than unattached men.
''There are places where there are five women for one man,'' said Frank Kaiser, 68, a retired advertising man in Florida who writes newspaper columns for the elderly and has written a book, ''Have Sex Like You Did 50 Years Ago.'' ''So you got four women who are left out there in that little equation, and they know it,'' he said.
Removed from the equation, whether by choice or by chance, many find they can readily do without men. ''I had lunch with about 40 senior women today,'' Mr. Kaiser said. ''I don't think any one of them would want to trade their cat for a man. One thing they've told us is how randy these 70- and 80-year-old guys are, and that's not what they're looking for.''
Jean Horrock, 70, joined the 450 elderly men and women in the ballroom of the Venture Out RV resort in Mesa one Saturday night. ''You just don't have time for a man full time,'' she said.
''I've spent a lot of years learning to be single,'' Ms. Horrock said. ''You don't want to learn all over again how to live with a man. People are looking for friends, but they're not looking for commitment.''
In Maricopa County, around Scottsdale and Phoenix, with nearly 400,000 people 65 and older, most mobile and healthy, it is the lure of the tango, more than dating services and personal ads, that rouses the elderly out of their La-Z-Boys.
''See this room?'' said Richard Greene, 86, vice president of the committee that organizes the twice-a-week senior center dances in Scottsdale. ''The only reason you see this room is modern medicine.''
''Every single man's here to meet another woman,'' said Mr. Greene, whose partner and cohabitant, Ruby Eldridge, is president of the dance committee. ''But hardly anybody gets married here.''
''They develop intimate relationships,'' he said. But remarriage, he said, is fraught with complications, like eventual inheritances of children and risks to pensions and alimony of widows and divorcées. Rather than mingle assets, a newly coupled man and woman hold onto their old homes.
Nornee Smith, 67, and Lee Swanson, 79, live minutes apart in Mesa and see one another most days. Ms. Smith, the widow of an F.B.I. agent, is an Arizona state senior pool champion and has exuberant and wavy gray-white hair. She wears the long shirts and billowy blouses of a Texas cowgirl on a Saturday night. Mr. Swanson is a twice-divorced, retired aerospace engineer and preacher with a thin gray strip of a mustache. They met at a dance.
''I asked her for a dance,'' he said. ''And then she gave it to somebody else.''
''So he got mad,'' Ms. Smith said, ''and that got my attention. We're a couple now.'' They go dancing three or four times a week.
''He and I are extremely close,'' Ms. Smith said. ''We travel together.'' Last summer, they drove 9,500 miles in 102 days in his motor home. ''The way it works, with children and family, it works better to stay single,'' she said.
One inviolate rule of conduct at dances is that single women do not cut in on men who are spoken for or married. Another is that married men who come without their wives -- few wives come without husbands -- are fair game, at least for a dance.
Still, there are tensions. ''See this lady?'' said Donald Hector, 67, a retired junk dealer who comes alone because his wife is largely confined at home with arthritis. He nods toward tall and willowy 70-ish woman, the one in the tight leather pants.
''She's a seducer,'' said Mr. Hector, one of the most sought after, nimble-kneed dancers here, whom the women call Santa Claus for his ample white beard. ''She'll get one guy, and she'll be watching around for the next guy she's going to get.''
The shortage of single men is a recurring problem. Tim Miluk, human services manager at the Scottsdale center, said, ''Guys that didn't have that many dates in high school are very popular now.'' Some women, he said, want the center to adopt the latest innovation of area ballrooms, an event that excludes women with regular partners. It's called an Angel's Dance.
If Your Cart Can Go 50 M.P.H., Who Needs Golf?
SUN CITY GRAND, ARIZONA
FEBRUARY 22, 2004--Late one recent afternoon, 28 golf carts were lined up in front of the fitness center and library at the Sun City Grand retirement community here, like horses outside a saloon. But only one carried golf bags. Otherwise, they bore little resemblance to those purring motorized wagons that ferry duffers around at speeds little faster than feet.
Dealerships call them golf cars. They can come pinstriped and enameled in the colors of Hades, with halogen headlights, rear-view mirrors, turn signals, coolers, ornately designed roofs and tasseled canopies, heaters, trunks, all-weather enclosures and simulated wood dashboards. They sell for $2,500 to $13,000, and some drivers soup them up to go 50 miles per hour.
''They're the greatest thing,'' said Elaine Treftz, 67, who was carrying a plastic foam ''noodle'' that she uses in her water aerobics class. ''A noodle and a golf cart are a must in Sun City Grand,'' she said. ''The carts get you all over. They get you to all the events. I can even get to the grocery store and Walgreen's.''
In the sprawling gated and retirement communities of Arizona, Florida, California, Texas, Georgia and the Carolinas, people in their 90's are cruising around in golf carts that have never carried a club, often on public roads and at illegal speeds.
Palm Springs, Calif., has golf cart lanes on its roads. Parking lots in the three adjoining Sun City retirement communities outside Phoenix -- Sun City, Sun City West and Sun City Grand -- have designated spaces for golf carts. In big retirement communities like the Villages in Florida and Peachtree City, Ga., the second car is usually a golf cart.
New houses' garages often come with room for one car and one golf cart, and a 110-volt outlet for recharging.
Most carts are electric, but in many communities up to half run on gasoline. Gas-powered carts cost pennies a gallon to operate, while electric models can run all day on one charge.
Not everyone here with a golf cart is interested in driving fast, but there is a secret society here of people who do. ''That's the Senior Hot Rods,'' said Donald Hultgren, 64, a retired schoolteacher. ''A lot of these guys, they'll adjust the governors up to 40 miles an hour, and that's too fast.''
Six years ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spurred wider use of the carts by establishing a new category of motor vehicles: low-speed vehicles, which are permitted to go up to 25 miles an hour on public roads with speed limits of up to 35 miles an hour, provided they are equipped with safety devices like seat belts, rear-view mirrors, and headlights and taillights. About half the states have signed on and are allowing local communities to permit low-speed vehicles and designate the roads they can use.
The Arizona Motor Vehicle Division, which requires driver's licenses and registration for carts that use public roads, says it has registered 28,804, 85 percent of them in Maricopa County, where the Sun City communities are located.
''But that number seems small,'' said Cydney DeModica, a division spokeswoman. Many more unregistered carts operate along private roads, she said.
Edward Kozlow, 77, a retired dentist from Dearborn, Mich., works out at the recreation center at Sun City Grand. He had a stroke eight years ago that left him with a limp and rendered his left hand useless. He had to stop driving, he said, so he relied on his wife to get him around.
''I lost her last year,'' Dr. Kozlow said. ''I couldn't do anything anymore. I had to do something.'' To be licensed to drive a cart in Arizona, a driver needs only one functional hand and one functional foot. ''I took the test and I passed it,'' he said, and his life was revitalized.
There is no official census of the nation's golf carts. But three companies -- E-Z-Go Textron, Yamaha and Ingersoll-Rand, manufacturer of the Club Car brand -- make most of the carts at plants in Georgia. The carts are sold in fleets to golf courses, with smaller numbers of fancier and often speedier models marketed to individuals through dealerships.
Ronald Skenes, the marketing and communications manager at E-Z-Go, the leading producer, said the three companies sold about 135,000 last year. ''It's a growing market for us,'' he said.
Golf-course carts go no more than 15 miles an hour, but Mr. Skenes said that when the courses renew their fleets every three to five years, dealers buy the older models and spruce them up for resale to consumers.
Drivers shop at places like Buggies Unlimited in Nicholsville, Ky., which sells golf-cart gear by mail. ''Only 20 percent of our business is golf-related,'' said Paxton Mahan, the shop's vice president. He sells wheel covers, lift kits to raise the cart chassis so it can run on bigger wheels, faster motors, decals, floor mats and gun holders for hunters.
Richard Steward, president of Golf Car Portal, a Web site listing dealers, cited the four-wheel-drive Bad Boy Buggy, built on an E-Z-Go chassis. ''The thing is so powerful it will climb a wall,'' he said.
Like most owners here, Bob White, 78, who moved from Overland Park, Kan., has customized his cart. He has a Kansas City Chiefs license plate on his 1993 Yamaha and a Chiefs flag flying above it. On the dashboard, there is a temperature gauge, a gas gauge and a compass. ''You get lost here,'' he said, ''because the streets go around in circles.''
Mr. White, a widower, lives in a ground-floor condominium with a garage big enough to accommodate his PT Cruiser and his golf cart. ''Taking the cart on the roads here can be treacherous,'' he said. ''They cut you off. They don't even see you. You try to stay in the right-hand lane, but I was run into the curb.''
Because the carts usually have no sides, safety is a big concern in retirement communities. ''When there is a crash of a golf cart and a conventional vehicle,'' Ms. DeModica of the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division said, ''the passengers of the golf cart are extremely vulnerable. They always get the worst end.''
Steve Pohle, a co-owner of an E-Z-Go dealership in Sun City, estimated that three or four people die each year in golf-cart accidents in the three Sun City communities.
Outside the recreation center at Sun City Grand, Paul and Sharon Corradi, retirees from Brecksville, Ohio, were settling into their rebuilt Yamaha after a taking a swim.
''It's like having a convertible,'' said Mrs. Corradi, 58. ''It's like living it all over again.''
''I don't even use it for golf,'' said Mr. Corradi, 63. ''I like the sensation. You just get in them and go. We've fooled around with drag racing.''
Mrs. Corradi said, ''We'll be coming back from the pool, just joking around.''
''Or,'' Mr. Corradi said, ''1 or 2 in the morning. We don't do it right here. You could run over someone who's older.''
VANISHING POINT; Bucking Trend, They Stay on Plains, Held by Family and Friends
DECEMBER 2, 2003--Tornadoes, droughts and the brutal busts after gas and oil booms have chased people from western Oklahoma for decades. Settlement after settlement has crumbled into the red-slate soil. Others hang on, barely.
In Reydon, population 161, a turtle crosses Main Street unscathed.
And yet after 70 years of flight from the rural Great Plains, a resolute core of people just will not go. They are people like David and Berla Barton, both 45, owners of a three-bedroom white stucco bungalow on Fifth Avenue, where spider plants hang over the patio, an orphaned black calf lies in a shed and eight fishing rods line a wall of the garage.
One Sunday at noon, cars pulled up and dogs yelped. Michael Barton, 17, stopped watching car races on television with his brother Zack, 15, to take the carrot cake he had made from the oven. Mrs. Barton loaded the kitchen counter with mashed potatoes, corn and a beef roast from the crockpot and arranged chairs around the long oak dining table that her father, Joe Handke, had built.
''Grandma, Grandma,'' said Maddie, coming in from Cheyenne, the county seat 18 miles away, with the Bartons' oldest son, Chris, and his wife, Janet, both 23, and their infant son, Trent. Four years old, possessed by her plan to be an angel ballerina on Halloween, Maddie asked: ''Do you have a purple dress? With wings?'' A daughter, Sarah Barton, and her boyfriend, Justin Batterton, both 21, arrived from outside Cheyenne.
As the plows of depopulation and decay slice through the Plains, these are the people who remain. Many would never think of moving. Some are too old or unskilled to have a choice. Many families -- like the Bartons, the Yowells, the Calverts and the Lippencotts in Reydon -- have members who do go away, for the Army, maybe, or college, and then come back to build new generations.
Blessing or trap, the lure invariably is family -- the family ranch, the homestead, the business, the assurance of help with a job. Sociologists and demographers do not know whether families like the Bartons are the stragglers of an exodus who will finally be swept away, too, or whether, like the survivors of fires and floods before them, they will adapt and hold on.
''You have a general regional trend of depopulation,'' Leonard Bloomquist, head of the sociology department at Kansas State University, said. ''But you do have families that are making viable communities and carving out a niche for themselves.''
One old reason to stay -- pursuit of the bigger-is-better American dogma of progress and growth -- fits Reydon like a glove on a goat. ''They make a conscious choice of what kind of lifestyle they want,'' Mr. Bloomquist said. ''They just don't want to go to the maximum-achievement approach. A lot of this is tied to a pioneer spirit, to making a go of it.''
In polls of Great Plains communities, Jim Sylvester, director of survey operations at the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana, asks people why they stay. ''Forty percent say their family keeps them there,'' he said. ''That's the big one.'' In urban areas, he said, 40 percent say their jobs are No. 1.
To make it in Reydon, people rely on one another. Bonds among families and neighbors supply the economic energy that used to come from small farmers, big employers, government offices, Main Street services and stores and, ages ago, streams of new settlers.
The Make-Do Economy
In this make-do economy, you pay a mother-in-law something to baby-sit, just not a lot. You leave a note when you enter an unlocked house and take something. Pauline McNeil, 80, the retired postmistress and widow of a carpenter, sews. ''I don't charge for it,'' she said. ''Someone will say, 'I've got a pair of pants that's too big.' ''
No one need buy maternity clothes. They are delivered to the doorstep, worn and dropped on another doorstep. In Reydon, families put the surplus from backyard gardens inside the post office door, for others to take. Cousins fill in for cousins who call in sick. You try to get a job with a telephone company, utility or oil field company, because then you get a truck to take home.
Families squabble, but with three people per square mile in Roger Mills County, they need not cross paths. ''If there's someone you don't get along with,'' Mrs. Barton said, ''you just don't go by their house.''
Places like Reydon have ''high social capital,'' said Curtis Stofferahn, a sociologist and co-director of the Center for Rural Studies of the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University.
''In the Plains, it's a sustaining feature of life,'' Mr. Stoferahn said. ''It's built on reciprocity and trust. You do favors without expecting you will be repaid, but you know you will be repaid by someone.''
People who linger can be said to have made an economically irrational choice, said Karl Stauber, chief executive of the Northwest Area Foundation, an organization in St. Paul that promotes ways to foster community revival. In this view, he said, ''anyone with any get-up-and-go has already gone.''
''There's another way to look at it,'' Mr. Stauber said. ''These are folks who value family and an economically simple life. People are taken care of. What you see are decentralized, informal systems that sometimes deliver services better'' than growing communities with government services and large employers.
Still, for these places, there is a breaking point. ''Schools close or you can't get an ambulance,'' Mr. Stauber said. ''Opportunities become so limited, people have to choose between subsistence and leaving, and they leave.''
Stuart and Kimberly Sander in Cheyenne, population 718 and dropping, fear facing such a choice.
''We wanted to give our kids the same opportunities we had,'' said Mr. Sander, who is 34 and senior vice president of Security State Bank. ''Out here, people are more content with what they have. I have a good job. I'm home every night to see my kids. I'm very happy with that.''
But all around the county, schools keep shrinking and consolidating. ''They're just not doing your kids a service,'' Mr. Sander said. ''I'm very worried about this place, this bank, what this town will be.''
The families of Roger Mills County live in an America without trains, planes or buses, and an hour's drive to a road with more than two lanes. The county, with a population of 3,300, has lost 30 percent of its people since the oil bust of the 1980's.
Reydon has five streets going north and south and six going east and west, including Main Street. The post office, the firehouse, the American Legion building and Kay Danks's tax preparation office are clustered at the east end of Main.
In the middle, across from Shirley Dyer's abandoned gasoline station with a tornado-wrung roof, is Tennery's beef-jerky plant. At the west end is the cinder-block Hilltop Cafe, with a 7-Up sign in front. The Wednesday special is brown beans, ham and coleslaw, for $2.95.
These days, the seven tables with 36 seats fill up at noon, with retirees, hunters, oil and gas field workers and cowboys from the ranches. At one table, Coby Lippencott, 28, and Jerry Burks, 44, dug into burgers and fries. Both raise cattle and work as natural-gas compression mechanics in the oil field. Mr. Lippencott graduated from Southwestern Oklahoma State University. Mr. Burks finished high school.
''There's always a reason people come back here,'' Mr. Lippencott said, ''not just because they want to. There's parents and grandparents that leave them something. My family's been here forever. We farm and ranch. The reason people leave, if they don't have parents or grandparents to help support them, then they leave. By the time I graduated from college, my grandparents bought a house and some land. Somebody had to live in the house. It was free. It always comes back to grandparents.''
David Barton is a wiry man with thinning hair and a laugh that bursts like a thunderclap. As a student at Reydon High School, he found part-time work in the oil field. ''I worked at night,'' he said. ''I was making more money than the teachers.''
A year after he graduated, he married Berla Handke, a classmate. Mrs. Barton quit nursing school so they could move to the oil fields of Wyoming. She became pregnant with Chris, so they returned to the oil fields here.
''Things were good,'' Mr. Barton said. ''We bought a house, new vehicles.'' Sarah was born. A week later, Mrs. Barton was in the hospital with an infection. Mr. Barton visited. ''He said, 'Honey, I just lost my job,' '' Mrs. Barton said. ''He went on unemployment.'' They lost their home.
''We had to sit down and rethink our position,'' Mr. Barton said.
With the 1980's oil bust, 14 percent of the county bailed out, but the Bartons stayed. ''It got to where it was more important to be close to home than to be away and make plenty of money,'' Mr. Barton said.
The ad-hoc economy kicked in. A farmer gave them a house for a year, rent free, in return for cleaning it up. Mr. Barton became a hunting guide in the fall and a carpenter in winter. Mostly, though, he trades cows and calves. He drives up to 300 miles a day tending cattle scattered over 4,000 acres he leases.
In a typical year, he earns about $16,000. Some years, when cattle prices plunge, he earns less than $10,000, and one year in the 1990's, he made nothing. In down years, he exchanges farm work and carpentry for cattle feed. ''Or if I'm running a little short,'' he said, ''my neighbor will sell me some hay and let me pay when I sell my calves. You can make a man-to-man deal for a vehicle and go ahead and pay when times get good.''
Eight years ago, the Bartons had saved enough to buy their current home, for $4,500. It needs a new roof. But with a bedroom for each boy, its wood stove, outbuildings and patio, it is an amiable middle-class home that could be anywhere.
Still, with four children, making a living was a struggle. So five years ago, Mrs. Barton went to back to school to become a licensed practical nurse.
Now she earns about $22,000 a year working in the maternity ward of a hospital in Clinton, 62 miles away.
With that and good cattle prices, the Bartons are having a good year. Mr. Barton cleared $28,000 this summer raising and trading calves. They are passing the windfall around.
They bought Michael and Zack $2,000 Kawasaki motorcycles. They bought the clapboard house next door for $7,500. They are renting it for $400 a month until one of the children wants it.
Janet and Chris are now settling into the make-do economy. Chris had gone to college for a year expecting to become a teacher. But he dropped out to take a full-time, full-benefits job as a lineman with the Northfork Electric Co-op in Cheyenne.
With a mortgage and a third child due soon, he has to hustle for other jobs. ''I own a hay truck,'' he said, ''and in the summer time, I'll haul square bales of hay. In the fall, we cut firewood and haul it to Pampa, Tex., where they don't have trees. I help a guy in a taxidermy shop. We mount deer, bobcats, coyotes, elk. We build fences.'' He and his partner won a bid this year to clear neglected lots in Cheyenne for $1,500.
Soon Janet is going to work, too. She has started classes to become a licensed practical nurse, like her mother-in-law.
Everyone else in the family works. Sarah is a loan office secretary at a bank in Sayre, about 40 miles away. Michael and Zack have after-school jobs as farm hands that pay $5 an hour, plus meals on Saturdays.
Michael and Zack, unlike many of Reydon's young, expect to remain nearby. Next year, Michael plans to go to a vocational-technical college to become a mechanic and welder. He doubts he will live in Reydon, but does not expect to move far.
Recruiters from Duke University in North Carolina have urged Zack to consider applying. He shrugs. He is thinking of somewhere cheaper and closer, and then a career in nuclear medicine, provided he can practice no farther than Elk City, 34 miles to the east-southeast.
Mr. Barton said: ''The main reason people stay is because it's where the family is. A lot of parents, if they make a place for their kids, they come back.''
''It's just normal,'' he continued. ''It's just normal to be here. If you're not accustomed to a real expensive lifestyle, you haven't lost anything.''
Where Scorpions Roam, and Snowbirds Flock
FEBRUARY 10, 2003--Desert or not, trafficalong the busiest one-mile stretch of Main Street here can take half an hour to pass. Motor homes towing pickup trucks choke gas station entrances. Septuagenarians in shorts amble fearlessly between busy intersections. Waits for a table at Silly Al's restaurant stretch to an hour.
''The thing you have to learn when you come to Quartzsite, you have to learn patience,'' said Bob Cast, 64, a deli owner.
Approached on Interstate 10, Quartzsite unfolds as a surreal sandscape of metal boxes packed side by side in town and scattered like buckshot over thousands of acres of Sonora Desert.
To nest there with Cinerama sunsets, among scorpions and coyotes, saguaro cactuses and thorny salt cedar bushes, campers pay the federal Bureau of Land Management $25 to park for two weeks and $125 for the six-month season. Nearly all are retirees.
A post-9/11 fear of flying, new concerns about war with Iraq, a surge in baby boomers retiring in their mid-50's, the country's numbing cold this year -- all of these seem to be pushing a human tide into Quartzsite. Two hours west of Phoenix, four hours from Los Angeles, Quartzsite is an old Gold Rush town where the population had dropped to 11 families by the 1950's.
It has since become winter's busiest, slowest-moving and by any known measure biggest destination for refugees with homes on wheels.
Quartzsite might seem like the middle of nowhere, except to travelers who, like turtles, have time to spare and their homes on their backs.
''We're closest to everyplace,'' Willard Meyer, 71, a snowbird from Lander, Wyo., said. ''Yuma, Parker, Lake Havasu and Blythe, Calif. Joshua Tree National Park in California is only 120 miles away.''
The number of permanent residents is about 3,000, but in the high season, January and February, 100,000 to 175,000 vehicles carrying twice as many snowbirds are parked here every day. Tourism officials estimate that one million people from the seven million households that the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association in Reston, Va., says own R.V.'s, settle here for at least a few days at some point during winter.
But reliable statistics are hard to come by. Mayor Verlyn Michel says two million people have already come or gone this season, and he predicts a record 2.25 million by spring. ''It started in 1964 with camping and rock hounding,'' or hunting, he said. ''Then they got the idea to sell rocks off their pickups. Now we have 77 R.V. parks.''
Quartzsite's growth jibes with sales of recreational vehicles.
Ken Sommer, spokesman for the vehicle association, said that last year the industry sold more than 300,000 vehicles, 20 percent more than in 2001 when the recession slowed sales. ''On top of that,'' Mr. Sommer said, ''our experts are predicting a 5 percent gain in 2003.'' That would be the most in 25 years.
These snowbirds are largely a patriotic crowd that plants American flags outside vehicles beside folding chairs and all-weather green rugs nailed down with foot-long spikes. Except for the steps into their motor homes, no one need raise a foot to stroll through town. There's little athletic activity, other than hiking, and little for children to do.
''This is a talk-about-the-weather, talk-about-sports, talk-about-your-motor-home type of town,'' Paul Winer, owner of Main Street's Reader's Oasis bookstore, said. ''There's no structure to the town, no association that coordinates it.''
But there is some organization. ''We have a thriving Senior Singles community, widows and widowers, with dances every night of the week,'' Mr. Winer said.
Except for their ubiquitous white Nikes, Quartzsite's campers have long passed the peacock season of fashion-alert youth. But whatever the state of their veins, they cling to the diets of youth. Quartzsite's busiest restaurant and bar, Silly Al's, specializes in multiple-topping pizzas and beer. The new McDonald's is bustling.
''Reading glasses is our main thing,'' said Kitty Shipley, 61, who with her husband, Dick, 62, moved their motor home and sales tent to 46 sites last year and stayed longest in Quartzsite, November to March. Along with gloves and socks, they sell a lot of back scratchers and Jiffy Seats. ''It's a cane to walk with,'' Mrs. Shipley said, ''and when you get tired, you open it up and sit down.''
Among the many desert encampments is a nudist colony. Two well tanned, rumple-skinned men were scrubbing down an R.V., and a woman was playing catch with a Labrador. The colony is 1,000 feet from and in full view of a community of retired executives from the Antelope Valley in California.
The 13 couples there have homes costing $100,000 and up. Frank Heard, 61, has a new Windsor with a double-door refrigerator, an electronic toilet and cherry-stained cabinets. ''The sticker on it was $271,000,'' he said. The campers have placed their homes in a circle around a fireplace. They gather there for potluck suppers.
Rather than hook up to utilities in R.V. parks, desert campers like these use generators and batteries for electricity and propane for cooking. Forming interminable lines, they take water from community spigots and dump sewage at community depots. At some sites they can flag down water wagons and ''honey trucks.'' The honey trucks, circulating among the encampments playing jingles like ice cream trucks, drain away sewage.
Many retiree-campers reside all year on their wheels. When summer comes and temperatures here soar, they bail out for Calgary, Alberta; the Rockies; and the Great Lakes.
''I don't have a house,'' said Bill Mapes, 76, who worked for the highway department in Nebraska for 43 years. ''I got a 36-foot Cruisemaster motor home with a slide-out,'' a section of wall that can be pushed out to expand a room. ''That's a Class A motor home. It's got a 454 Vortec engine in it. It makes about eight miles per gallon going down the road pulling my pickup.'
Mr. Mapes's wife, Virginia, operates the Best of Everything Beauty Salon at the Main Event, a 100-acre site of vendors and parking lots, the biggest of three big concentrations of vendors. She can pack up and move in a day.
Quartzsite seethes with rampant, mostly good humored and little regulated entrepreneurship. Six years ago, Mr. Cast left Eugene, Ore., to visit here. For $285,000 he bought four acres with a coin laundry on it just off a corner of the town's biggest intersection.
''I put in the smoked meat store with a deli and a propane dealership,'' he said. He planted a double-wide home just behind the shops. ''I think we're sitting on a situation where we have the potential to be something big,'' he said.
From Lynn, Mass., Mr. Winer, the bookseller, is a gray-bearded, long-haired sartorial jolt. Fifty-nine years old, he wears a cowboy hat, suede boots, three turquoise necklaces and a thong. On chillier days, he adds a T-shirt.
He said he and his wife, Joann, started out here 12 years ago in a 10-foot-square tent with three boxes of used books. Today his jerry-built store, big as a small supermarket, carries 80,000 titles, mostly old paperbacks. ''We were lucky,'' he said. ''Snowbirds are the reading generation.''
More than 2,000 itinerant vendors have set up tents beside their vehicles in Quartzsite. Eight sell R.V.'s. They also sell Polish dogs and Dutch dogs, dug-up blue bottles, aircraft drills and holding tank ventilators for R.V.'s. A sign on one of two barrels in front of one shop advertises, ''Quartzsite summer wear'' -- men's and women's satiny thongs -- for $1 each. The other holds $1 ''winter wear'' -- satiny briefs and panties.
From his family's quartz mine near Custer, S.D., Carl Scott has hauled in two 18-wheeler loads near one of Quartzsite's few monuments, a white-painted camel made of automobile wheel rims. For $1 a pound, he sells mostly 2- to 10-pound chunks that customers cut up and polish and sell for many times more back home. He is offering a boulder of rose quartz the size of an old Volkswagen. ''I'll sell that for $6,000,'' he said.
Promoters call the activity swap meets. True swapping is rare, but it happens. ''I have a large meteorite I'm trying to interest somebody in,'' said Bob Kleinschmidt, 72, of San Diego. ''It's in the neighborhood of 100 tons. It's in southern Nevada. I staked a claim to it.''
With Quartzsite's growth, longtime visitors like Greta Knudsen, 69, and her husband, 70, complain of a decline in the rock hounding and swapping that was its original lure. Full-timers from Brooklyn, the Knudsens have traversed the country 25 times and have come here on vacation and now in retirement for 18 years.
Sunning outside their camper, they looked lonely. The score of rock hunters they once gathered with here have died or moved on. ''I used to like it here a lot more,'' Mrs. Knudsen said. ''Now you see a lot of junk. I collect dinosaur bones for my grandchildren. They're a lot more expensive now. You can get a dinosaur tooth for $28. I used to pay $10.''
Nuns Bring Hope to a Destitute Town in Mississippi
NOVEMBER 20, 2002--With the harvest nearly over, bits of cotton residue scatter over the roads. The smell of frying chicken drenches Main Street. Men without jobs dig under the hoods of old Pontiacs, trying to make them run again. The scene here could be from any of the mostly black, mostly destitute towns at the core of the Mississippi Delta.
Except for the gray-haired woman in a sweatshirt and jeans, coaching teenage boys in a game of flag football. The woman, Kay Burton, is white, robust as the Idaho farmers she grew up among, and a Roman Catholic nun.
Sister Kay, 65, a member of the Holy Name order, is one of four nuns from faraway states who live and work in Jonestown, a community of 44 whites and 1,660 blacks 50 miles south of Memphis.
In the 1980's, a half dozen orders of Catholic nuns looked around the country to see where they could be most helpful, and they began sending members into the Delta, with the support of the Diocese of Jackson, Miss. Since then, several hundred nuns have settled in communities like Tutwiler, Tunica, Marks, Rosedale and Jonestown -- places that whites had deserted with the desegregation of schools.
With little fanfare and no government help to speak of, these sisters help reinforce the town's crowded and underfinanced public schools. They are also nurses, doctors, counselors and community organizers. They build medical clinics, nonsectarian preschools for the youngest children and houses with Habitat for Humanity volunteers.
They provide the towns' only refuges for many children to do homework or make decorations for Halloween. They organize programs for teenage girls as alternatives to becoming pregnant.
Using church and private donations -- nothing from government agencies -- they have opened a new brick Community Education Center in Tutwiler with a big gymnasium. In Jonestown this year, they opened a Montessori school for children ages 2 to 6.
People say the sisters keep their towns afloat in the face of the Delta's intractable poverty. Lavorn Burnett, 51, and her husband, Donal, 52, own a service station next to Jonestown's cramped City Hall. They use the health clinic of Manette Durand, 60-ish, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.
A nurse practitioner, Sister Manette is the only health care provider in town. ''She can do everything but cutting,'' Mrs. Burnett said. ''She takes time to talk to you. You can call her if you're having a problem. You can talk to her like friends. She gives you the advice you need to make a decision.
''And Sister Kay, Sister Kay has this carpentry class. She teaches the kids through working. One kid built a porch for his house. I don't want you to think I'm glorifying the nuns. It's just what we've seen here.''
Judy Phillips, manager of a community preservation program at Mississippi State University that oversees a grant to renovate a long-abandoned school, said, ''I can't think of any entity that is more important to Jonestown than the sisters.''
More than local churches, businesses or government agencies, Ms. Phillips said, ''they are the true support net within that community.''
Viewed by the usual measures of community health, Jonestown sits on the floor of the nation's cellar. The 2000 census deemed half its families poor, compared with 9 percent nationwide. The median family income was $15,750, nearly $27,000 less than the national median.
In communities with 1,000 or more people, Jonestown had the second-highest rate of single-mother households, 32 percent, after Ford Heights, Ill., near Chicago. The median age of single mothers here was 21. The national median was 35.
More than half of the adults in town do not work, the census found. One reason is education. Fewer than half the adults over 25 have high school diplomas. Another reason is transportation. Almost one in three households do not have a car. There is no public transportation.
''Some of our folks have never had decent shoes on, so they have impaired feet,'' Sister Manette said.
She trims corns and nails and bathes patients' feet in a whirlpool. She treats many knife and gunshot wounds, too, and the chronic diseases of the poor, like hypertension, diabetes and osteoarthritis.
However bleak, the statistics obscure crosscurrents of pride and resilience. ''We don't have any suicides,'' Sister Manette said.
After falling for years, the population has grown 38 percent in the last 20 years. Jonestown's cottonseed oil mill has survived the many mill closings in other Delta towns. New jobs have opened in the casinos of Tunica County, 35 miles away, to which young mothers here commute on casino-financed buses.
The gauges of poverty apply to the Burnetts in some ways but not in others. They are qualified for food stamps and welfare but never applied. They economized with chicken, they said. They reared their five children in a three-bedroom trailer behind their service station. Four of the children have finished college, and one is still attending. The Burnetts said the sisters helped steer the children through school and beyond.
The nuns and the Burnetts worked together to develop newspaper routes to deliver The Clarksdale Press Register.
''The children would come in in the evening and roll those papers up and get them to the readers,'' Mrs. Burnett said.
Mr. Burnett said, ''If the nuns hear of something the community can benefit from, they try to get you into it.''
Across Main Street from the Burnetts' business is Uptown Brown, a take-out barbecue shop. Bennie Brown, 49, the second-generation owner, has just opened a youth center in the shuttered school.
With sports programs there, Mr. Brown wants to steer young people ages 10 to 18 from the drugs sold openly here. Sister Teresa Shields of the Holy Name order, who runs tutoring and social programs for children in kindergarten to sixth grade, helped organize the center and is a member of its board.
The nuns have touched Mr. Brown in another way, too.
''I think the Lord was calling for this work to be done,'' he said. ''But the people here hadn't made themselves available. By watching the nuns, they inspired me to be involved in a ministry. I learned to put my whole self into what I learned from them.''
Three years ago, Mr. Brown was ordained a Baptist minister. A year later he became pastor of St. Paul's Ministry, one of Jonestown's five churches, all a century old and none of them Roman Catholic.
Townspeople know of no Catholics among them, other than the nuns. When Bishop William Houck of the Jackson Diocese invited the nuns into the towns, Sister Kay said, ''he told us we were not to evangelize but to educate.''
''We're teachers,'' she said.
Sister Kay lives in a large, white stucco house two blocks from City Hall, next to the new Montessori school, where two sisters from Clarksdale teach. Her bedroom is next to the kitchen. Volunteers, often college students on vacation, stay in a dormitory upstairs and in two rooms downstairs.
Scattered about are three pianos, four electric keyboards and four computers, all donated. In the living room on many evenings, about 30 teenage participants in Sister Kay's Girls to Women program settle around the living room to recite poetry, perform skits, watch videotapes and begin planning careers.
A large sunny room in back is Sister Kay's classroom, with four tables joined in a square. Teenage students come in for tutoring. Older people stop in for help in earning high school equivalency diplomas.
''My purpose is to promote the idea that as people become educated, they will volunteer to help others when we pass on,'' Sister Kay said.
Often, economists and sociologists suggest that Delta towns once rooted in agriculture have outlived their purpose with the mechanization of farming. They suggest that the young move to communities with more jobs and that the towns be plowed back into cotton.
Valid or not, it is not a proposition that engages the nuns. ''There are 600 children in elementary school here,'' said Sister Teresa, 57. ''Whether they eventually leave or grow up here, they deserve the best.''
A Huge, Boat-Hurdling Carp Is No Mississippi Fish Story
AUGUST 26, 2002--Five miles west of downtown Tunica, over the grassy levee that keeps the floods out of town, the fishermen who had gathered by the banks of the Mississippi were telling tales of crazed fish as big as hound dogs that leap out of the water and hit boaters on the head.
''This year there's a gang of them coming into the boats,'' said John Robertson, who helps out at a bait shop at Charlie's Landing, a fishing camp. ''If you're down there fishing, they'll jump over in the boat to you. I had one guy, it hit him and busted his mouth.''
In the next fishing camp over, Jack Bryan, who had joined some friends for breakfast beers at Big Roy's, a tavern, said: ''It started about two, three years ago. What I was told was, some of these fish ponds got flooded, and they spread all over.'' Two weeks ago, he said, a flying 48-pounder split a buddy's lip.
The men were sober. The tales were true. The fish were carp.
Grass carp, bighead carp and the neurotic silver carp -- giant, prolific species all originally imported by catfish farmers in Mississippi and Arkansas two decades ago to control detritus and unwanted plant and animal life in their manmade ponds -- have escaped in floods into the Mississippi, and have begun showing up as far north as Iowa and Illinois.
''They are thick as fleas in Mississippi tributaries,'' said Bill Reeves, chief of fisheries for the State of Tennessee.
These carp lack any touches of style, like a swordfish's elegant fins or a sturgeon's scoopy nose. The grass carp ''is like an aquatic cow,'' said Jack Killgore, a fisheries biologist at the Army Corps of Engineers' Waterways Experiment Station, a research center in Vicksburg. ''It just grazes.''
Now a more recent arrival, the black carp, is stirring alarm from New Orleans to Ontario. Also known as the snail carp and the Chinese roach, the black carp is a bottom-sucking ogre that can grow five feet long and up to 150 pounds. It gorges on mollusks -- including parasite-infested ram's horn snails, which can populate ponds and infect the catfish with wormy yellow grubs. Teeth in the back of its throat grind up its prey like garbage disposals.
The various carp species, imported from China, Russia and Vietnam, are banned from fish farms in several states. They are edible but largely uneaten here, except by some Asian immigrants for whom they are a dietary staple.
Most farms get along without them, said Hugh Warren, executive director of the Catfish Farmers of America, a trade association in Indianola, Miss., but a sizable minority believe they must have them. Several farmers in Arkansas breed small numbers of sterile black carp for sale to catfish farms in Arkansas and Mississippi.
As yet, none is known to have escaped a pond for the wild, but after two years of pressure from many states' conservation and natural resource agencies, the Fish and Wildlife Service on July 30 proposed adopting a rule designating the black carp an injurious species. On Aug. 3 it issued a similar ruling for the northern snakehead, a predatory Asian fish that has been found in Maryland, California, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
''The probability is high'' that the rule will be approved for the black carp after a 60-day comment period, said Ken Burton, a spokesman for the service. Opponents, he said, ''would have to present very convincing arguments, because all the evidence goes the other way."
The rule would ban the importing and interstate shipping of the carp, although states that now allow them, like Mississippi and Arkansas, could continue to do so. The agency cited other ways to control
The rule would ban the importing and interstate shipping of the carp, although states that now allow them, like Mississippi and Arkansas, could continue to do so. The agency cited other ways to control snails on catfish farms, using chemicals and less invasive snail-eating fish. But some farmers say nothing works like black carp, and they intend to fight the ruling.
In the political storm that is brewing, the Mississippi Interstate Cooperative Resource Association, made up of natural resource agencies from 28 states and four federal agencies, favors such regulations. State and federal agriculture departments tend to oppose them.
''I've talked to both of our senators personally,'' said Mike Freeze, a black carp and bass farmer in Arkansas. ''I know both are opposed.'' The industry has formed a formidable lobby.
The earlier invasion of Asian carp into American waterways, before injurious-species regulations had been written and long after a ban would have any effect, presents a major conflict. It not only sets commercial interests against conservationists and ecologists, but also pits the interests of one business, catfish farming, against the interests of another, the sale of mussel shells to Japan to make cultured pearls.
In Mississippi, catfish have become the state's fourth-biggest crop. Like the casinos that have opened along the Mississippi River, catfish farms have helped sustain a region of the country, the Mississippi Delta, that ranks with Appalachia and Indian reservations in unemployment, poverty and disease. Workers who have lost jobs on mechanized cotton plantations find jobs at catfish processing plants.
Mr. Warren of the Catfish Farmers of America said 395 Mississippi farms raise catfish in 111,500 acres of water. They represent more than half the nation's cultivated production of catfish. Some farmers also raise a hybrid striped bass for restaurants. ''And there are people that grow catfish that also grow carp,'' Mr. Warren said.
But as the grass, silver and bighead carp already in the river grow and proliferate, conservation agencies are finding them no easier to control than alewives, round gobies, the zebra mussels that have stacked themselves along the Mississippi and across the Great Lakes, and the sea lampreys that latch onto fish and suck the life out of them. Carp hug the bottom of the muddy Mississippi, and nobody knows how many there are.
Day by day, fishermen have lately been reporting sightings of the once-infrequently seen silver carp springing like torpedoes from rivers in the Mississippi basin when outboard motor boats pass. ''It's common behavior to jump when frightened,'' Dr. Killgore of the Army Corps of Engineers said. ''One clipped my ear.''
For a couple of years, bighead carp have been piling into the nets that Bill Lancaster of Sunflower, Miss., sets out for native catfish and buffalo fish. ''They've gotten more and more and bigger and bigger,'' Mr. Lancaster said. ''I caught some bigheads last year that weighed over 70 pounds. They tear enormous holes in your nets.''
As they head north, John Chick, director of the Illinois Natural History Survey's Great River field station near Alton, Ill., said, ''Individuals have been seen up around Iowa and Wisconsin.'' Their next stop could be the Great Lakes.
Marc Gaden, spokesman for the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission in Ann Arbor, Mich., an organization of the governments of the United States and Canada that seeks to prevent pollution and ecological damage to the Great Lakes, said the fish were ''scratching at our door.''
''They're very large, they're voracious eaters, and they're very well suited to the climate of the Great Lakes,'' Mr. Gaden said.
Jerry Rasmussen, coordinator of large river activities for the Mississippi Interstate Cooperative Resource Association, which petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service for the ban against black carp, said, ''Two bigheads in the 50-pound range have been found in Lake Erie.'' Mr. Rasmussen said Asian immigrants might have put them there.