Thursday, September 28, 2017

California As Prophet: Moving Toward A Better Future As Trump's America Flails?

By the time the sun peeks over the mountains,
Trump has already been awake and tweeting for hours.
After the Rolling Stones played their first U.S. concert at the Swing Auditorium in San Bernardino in June 1964, Mick Jagger remarked, "California isn't like the rest of America, is it?"   No it wasn't, and no it still isn't 50 years on in its unique and important role as the anti-Trump antidote and a beacon of hope for the rest of an America falling apart spiritually, politically and physically.   
If demographics are destiny, it is no accident that California has become the bluest of blue states.    
There is not a single Republican in statewide office.  Democrats have supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature.  The two U.S. senators and 40 of its 53 U.S. representatives are Democrats, although Republicans and many voters in the 13 remaining red districts work constantly to undermine the state's progressive movement. 
In the months since Trump stole the election with an assist from Russia, California -- with the sixth largest economy in the world (slightly larger in size than France) and the clout that comes with such a lofty position -- has become a laboratory for the anti-Trump resistance in aggressively pushing legal, legislative and political strategies to counter Republican policies while moving on (as opposed to merely talking about) the kind of Democratic policies that the party's national leadership seems incapable of endorsing as it wanders in the political wilderness. 
Climate policy is a prime example. 
Although Trump may appear to control climate policy and is methodically disabling the Environmental Protection Agency, California has become the leading environmental regulator in the U.S.  In August, the EPA opened a review of auto emissions standards at the request of major automakers in what is widely viewed as a prelude to loosening the target standard of nearly doubling average new car fuel economy by 2025.  But California has long had the unique authority to write its own air pollution rules because of the legendary smog that once hung heavy over Los Angeles.  Some 12 other states now follow its tough standards, so it is in effect staging a regulatory mutiny that is likely to succeed, if not grow. 
"We're standing firm. We're prepared to sue. We're prepared to do what we need to do," says Mary D. Nichols, California’s electric-car-driving air quality regulator.  "We aren't going anywhere." 
It may not be Calexit (as in Brexit), the name of the campaign for California to withdraw from the union, which is unlikely to succeed.  But the state’s slow-motion secession both culturally and politically has accelerated since Trump took over and is "a sea of defiance and a potential source of unending legal and legislative challenges," as The New York Times put it. 
Democrats in the California legislature have hired Eric Holder, President Obama's attorney general, to represent them in anticipation of legal battles to come with the Trump White House.

"We will definitely not sit by idly as the Trump administration tries to deport immigrants, throw people off health care, ignore climate change and steal our water," said Scott Wiener, a former member of the San Francisco board of supervisors who was elected to the State Senate last November. "It's about playing defense to whatever the administration throws at us — but also offense in terms of continuing California’s push for progressive social change." 
That social change is driven by California's extraordinarily diverse population. 
As California's population nears 40 million, making it by far the most populous state, Hispanics (38.9 percent) now significantly outnumber whites (33.8 percent), Asians (14.8) and blacks (6.5), while 3.8 percent identify themselves as being two or more races. 
As recently as the 1970s, Republicans held considerable sway as Governor Ronald Reagan honed his message of small government, low taxes, and shrinking the welfare state before moving on to Washington.  
But in the 1990s, Hispanics grew from an eighth to a quarter of California's population as waves of immigrants arrived.  The Republican Party, spearheaded by Republican Governor Pete Wilson, reacted by making opposition to immigration and fighting diversity his signature issues.   
In office from 1991 to 1999, Wilson embraced Proposition 187, which would have banned undocumented immigrants from using state services had it not been overturned, Proposition 209, which banned racial preferences for disadvantaged minorities, and Proposition 227, which prohibited bilingual education.  Despite the election and re-election of Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 2000s, the California Republican Party has been steadily sliding toward irrelevance  for nearly 20 years. 
Orange County, long one of the most conservative (read Republican) counties in the U.S., hadn't voted for a Democrat since FDR, but broke for Clinton last November. Obama had lost the county in 2012 by 84,000 votes; Clinton won by 100,000.
Still, there are limits to what California can do in leading the anti-Trump resistance. 
Governor Jerry Brown projects a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall, which means it will be difficult for California to promote the kind of spending program lawmakers want to make up for cuts in Washington, particularly on health care. 
The legal efforts being threatened could delay some actions by the Trump White House, but won't necessarily block them.   The president could move to cut off funds for several programs, but has not yet done so.  
"[W]e give tremendous amounts of money to California," Trump said earlier this year in the context of its status as a sanctuary state. "California in many ways is out of control, as you know.  Obviously the voters agree or otherwise they wouldn’t have voted for me."    
This obscures a very big point beyond the fact California voters overwhelmingly rejected Trump and that high tech, its most visible industry, is united in opposing Trump's draconian immigration policies: California gives the federal government more than it takes, generating more than $405 billion in tax revenue for Washington in 2015, more than $100 billion more than the next closest state, while receiving about $350 billion in federal spending.  It is ranked 46th among the 50 states in its dependence on the feds. 
"The impact of anything coming out of Washington is going to be so difficult for California that we are almost thrown into survival mode," says Sheila Kuehl, a member of the Los Angeles County board of supervisors.  She has started what she calls Operation Monkey Wrench and is urging Californian officeholders to aggressively try to disrupt and impede any Trump policies that undercut California laws or policies.  
"I said 'If you have to lie, cheat and steal, do it,' " Kuehl says. "Take federal money and just tell them you are going to do whatever they want."
Trump, of course, is in effect repeating Wilson's playbook on a national stage. 
In cementing the Republican Party's image as being anti-everyone but white people, he further encourages minorities and whites sympathetic to diversity issues to vote Democratic.  At least that is how it works in theory, but whether California is a bellwether in looking ahead to elections next year and the big dance in 2020 remains to be seen. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Where Robert Mueller Might Have The Goods On Trump & Where He Might Not

Trump had his fun the night he beat Hillary . . . But the fun you had the night before ends up looking different in the morning. And right now, it’s morning in Bob Mueller’s America. ~ LUCIAN TRUSCOTT IV 
After four months in the saddle, we are able to make some educated guesses about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Russia scandal: He has ample evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Vladimir Putin's election sabotage operatives.  He has ample evidence that Donald Trump himself was not only aware of but approved of the collusion and sabotage, although this is merely another of the crimes against decency that he has committed over a long and sordid career and not necessarily a crime in the legal sense.  But Mueller does seem to have Trump cold on obstructing justice and that may be what hastens the end of his presidency and the nightmare he has visited on America. 
Why can investigators be so certain that there was collusion?  Because of what's not there.   
There was a time when the extent of the scandal was not yet obvious and it didn't seem particularly strange that the future president's advisers were having contacts with people with Russian government connections.  But now that the extent of Putin's efforts to throw the election to Trump is well known and copiously documented, the suspiciousness of those interactions is screamingly obvious for the simple reason that while there were numerous contacts with Russians (The Washington Post lists some 15), no overtures were made to China, Germany or any other major global player.   
Then there are Trump's long-standing obsessions with shutting down the investigation, which he continues to claim is a witch hunt based on fake news, and kissing Putin's ring at every opportunity while refusing to say anything negative about America's greatest foe. 
Insofar as obstruction of justice, here is where Mueller might have the goods on Trump:
Trump fired his national security adviser on February 13 only three weeks into his presidency, ostensibly because of leaked stories -- that he had lied to Vice President Pence about his contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and that the White House had been warned that Flynn, who already was under investigation by the FBI, was liable to being blackmailed by Russian collaborators.  
The day after Trump fired Flynn, he pulled then-FBI Director James Comey aside and asked him to "let" the Flynn investigation "go," as well as subsequently made other attempts, both directly and through aides, to quash the Russia investigation. 
On May 9, Trump fired Comey based on a letter drafted by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that claimed Comey had botched the Hillary Clinton email server investigation, but an earlier letter had been drafted by aide Stephen Miller providing the real reason Comey was getting the ax -- the Russia investigation. 
White House counsel Don McGahn made numerous deletions and comments to and on that draft, and if he counseled the president that the letter could create legal liability for him, as seems to be the case, that would be powerful obstruction evidence. 
On May 10, Trump met with Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, telling them that "I just fired the head of the FBI.  He was crazy, a real nut job. . . . I faced great pressure because of Russia.  That's taken off." 
Shortly after Trump fired Comey and Rosenstein appointed Mueller, Trump angrily confronted Attorney General Sessions, calling him an "idiot" and demanding his resignation because of appointment of the special counsel, which Sessions was powerless to block because he had been forced to recuse himself because of his own meetings with Kislyak. 
The intensity of Trump's reaction reflects how deeply he cared about losing control of the Russia investigation, which he effectively had with Mueller's appointment 
There were extensive internal administration deliberations involving the president over his son's June 9, 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with Russians with intelligence backgrounds who said they could provide official Russian government dirt on Clinton.  Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign manager Paul Manafort also attended. 
After news of the meeting broke in July of this year, Trump Sr. drafted a highly misleading statement for his son about the purpose of the meeting in an obvious effort to cover up its real purpose. 
These encounters are five of 13 areas in which Mueller has asked the White House for further information, including documents and internal memos.   
Meanwhile, there is evidence some of the damaging leaks about Manafort in recent days came from the White House, which may mean there's a strategy in play to try to make Trump's former campaign manager a fall guy and Trump a victim. 
What Mueller is able to do with all of this is another matter.   
There is, for example, no legal meaning to the term "Russian collusion," so Flynn and Manafort, to name two of the biggest perps, would not be charged as a group that participated in a big, bad conspiracy.   Nor can a sitting president be indicted, in the view of most legal scholars.      
So where does this leave the special counsel?  Here's where:
To make the case in a report to Congress that the president obstructed justice and is legally liable for impeachment, which is a political process. 
This would require the votes of a Republican House majority and the votes of at least 19 Senate Republicans and all Democrats to convict, which at this point remains an abstraction with Republicans firmly in control and still needing Trump to help enact their legislative agenda.   
To make the case before a federal judge that as individuals these players broke federal law and should be indicted, which is a criminal process.   
This could involve a range of charges, including criminal liability, breaking tax and banking laws, failure to register as an agent of a foreign government, lying on security clearance forms, and making misleading statements, which seem more likely to succeed than impeachment. 
Mueller's mandate is broad under the order appointing him.   
Once he decides to ask for an indictment, his Washington grand jury would vote on whether to approve it (the votes of only 12 of the 16 grand jurors are required to indict) using the standard of probable cause.  He does not need Department of Justice approval.
What all this could mean is that at the end of the day -- and we're probably talking 2017, folks -- Mueller may end up with indictments unrelated to Russia's election meddling and the campaign's role in that meddling.  He would then have to be content with nailing Flynn and Manafort for their sleazy business dealings with Russia as well as the Trump Organization for its financial dealings with Russians.   
In other words, a crippling but not devastating blow to the Trump presidency unless Flynn, Manafort or other possibly indicted players (Kushner and Trump's longtime lawyer Michael Cohen come to mind) can be flipped by Mueller.   
All that noted, the reality of Russia's efforts to meddle in the election and Trump's refusal to acknowledge even that have been on a collision course for well over a year.   
On Friday, Trump's Department of Homeland Security notified election officials in 21 states that they had been targeted by Russian government hackers.  This was a far cry from candidate Trump's claim last September that Clinton was playing Chicken Little. 
"I don't think anyone knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC," he had declared after it was confirmed that it indeed was Russian government hackers who had stolen tens of thousands of emails that he was using as a cudgel to put Clinton on the defensive.   
"She's saying Russia, Russia, Russia," he added. "I mean it could be Russia, but it also could be China.  It also could be lots of other people.  It could be somebody sitting on their bed that weights 400 pounds, OK?"

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Reflections On A Book Signing: We Came To Conquer Time For Just One Day

When I first approached Dick Schmidt in early June 2014 about using his Blue Crab Grill in Newark, Delaware for a signing for my then forthcoming book, There's A House In The Land (Where A Band Can Take A Stand), I told him the event was pretty much contingent on getting Snakegrinder and the Shredded Fieldmice back together again. This was an iffy proposition since the band had not played in its original form since two shows nearly 25 years ago, and it had been 40 years since they had gigged regularly. 
There were several reasons for wanting to get Snakegrinder back together. 
I had stolen the title of There's A House from a lyric from one of their songs, and the psychedelic-tinged band was closely identified with the farm outside of Newark during its heyday in the 1970s that is the subject of my book.  So I owed them one.  And I figured that the likelihood of an event attracting more than a handful of people with nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon than skipping a league bowling match to get their copies of There's A House signed by some geezer would be enhanced if Snakegrinder was there to provide a little mood music.  
I also knew that such an event would be the last best opportunity to reunite some of the characters in the book -- members of the tribe who had made the farm their home and lived to tell about it, people who visited the farm, attended its famous Flag Day parties and lived to tell about it, as well as the musicians -- and party like it was the Seventies.  Dick agreed to host the event, Snakegrinder or not.  
Somewhere in the depths of what was left of my mind, it also occurred to me that I might be unleashing a monster, albeit a benevolent one, as well as summoning some long-ago spirits.  Little did I know. 
I next approached bassist Steve Roberts, the keeper of the Snakegrinder flame, about getting the band back together one more time, but he was extremely skeptical about that happening.  
Roberts, guitarist Larry Adams and drummer John DiGiovanni still lived in or near Newark, had played a too brief Snakegrinder set with some sit-in musicians at a fundraiser in May of 2013 and gigged regularly in area bands, but lead vocalist George Wolkind lived in Colorado and hadn't sung outside of a shower for 25 years, while pedal steel player Tommy Eppes' home base was in Las Vegas, although he frequently toured with national acts as the only Snakegrinder member to play professionally.  The sixth spoke in the original wheel, keyboard player Dave Bennett, was even further away in the Philippines.  Nevertheless, Roberts reluctantly said he would float the idea of a reunion to the far-flung flock.
"No way, José gave way to "Well, we'll have to see."  Then Steve made the wise-assed suggestion that we rent a large-screen TV for the Blue Crab stage and play the Stretch Wesolowski-produced video of Snakegrinder's legendary 1976 Christmas-New Years holiday reunion at the Stone Balloon in lieu of the band appearing in the flesh.  
"When pigs fly," I replied.  
I had been a big Snakegrinder fan back in the day, designed a poster or two for them, and occasionally helped lug their equipment to and from gigs.  Band members had not forgotten, and declared that they'd get back together to support my book with the understandable exception of Dave, who was 12 times zones distant and busy starting a computer consulting business.  When I emailed former Stone Balloon owner Bill Stevenson to ask if he would introduce the band as he had that magical night at the Balloon, he got back to me in a heartbeat, saying he'd gladly do it.  After all, he credits me as the source of the story, apocryphal as it may be, that he "discovered" Bruce Springsteen.  Bill has had a pretty good ride on that one over the years.
I set the date of the signing and reunion for 1 p.m. on Sunday, September 28.  I figured it would be a quiet weekend in Newark with no home University of Delaware football game, the Iggles were playing a late game in San Francisco and preparing to break our hearts right on schedule, and the moon was a waxing crescent and transitioning from Scorpio to Sagittarius, which I was told did not foretell gale force winds, an earthquake or a police bust for disturbing the peace.  
There’s A House In The Land went on sale online at Amazon on August 7, a week after I sent out complimentary copies to surviving members of the tribe, friends and family, the members of Snakegrinder (so they at least knew what the book they would be supporting was about), as well as some fellow scribes.  Rave notices started coming in, among them a beyond laudatory five-star review at Amazon written by Phillip "Flip" Bannowsky, a counterculture figure in Newark for five decades, an accomplished writer himself and now an instructor in the university's English Department who, among other things, teaches a class on the Sixties and its impact on the Seventies. 
An excerpt from his review:
The Seventies were the shore the Sixties washed up on. Those who climbed out of the surf were left to rebuild the American Dream, shredded by Vietnam, JFK, MLK, THC, LSD. Who knows how many such islands of self-reliance [like the farm] and rugged individualism there were in America, but few had in residence an amanuensis as talented as Shaun Mullen.    
I blushed when I read that.  
Meanwhile, Steve and Kathy cleared out a room in their house and Steve put together an ambitious rehearsal schedule for he, Larry and John, who were joined in lieu of Dave by the talented multi-instrumentalist Craig "Hangnail Phillips" Smith.  George and Tommy booked airline reservations and were to join rehearsals during the week before the signing and reunion.  In the meantime, George began hanging out a karaoke bars to get the rust off his pipes.  (If you're familiar the Snakegrinder anthem "Love Junkie," you know it's not the kind of song you can belt out cold unless you want to destroy your vocal cords.)
As August begat September, a crisis of a sort suddenly loomed: Based on the reservations people had made, there was no more room at the Blue Crab, and Dick, Steve and I absolutely wanted to avoid turning people away considering that a fair number of them would be coming in from hundreds and even thousands of miles away.  (California, Colorado, Kansas, Vermont and even Elkton.)  A second signing and reunion event was announced for 8 p.m. and it too quickly filled up.  
I blushed when I heard that.   
It didn't particularly matter what the weather would be on September 28 since the event was indoors, but the day dawned brilliantly sunny and seasonably toasty and the parking lot was was aswarm even before the doors opened as friends who had not seen each other for years high-fived, kissed and embraced, as well as oohed and aahed and posed for pictures in front of the immaculately maintained 1937 pickup truck long belonging to tribe member Tom "Catbird" Cunane.  (The truck is beautifully rendered on the flip side of graphic artist Anja Gudic's wonderful There's A House In The Land cover.)
Deborah and I had dined at the Blue Crab many times.  Dick's place has a nice feel, the decor is wonderful and the food among the best seafood I've ever eaten, and I grew up near enough to the Eastern Shore of Maryland that I could crack crabs when I was barely out of diapers and ate soft shell crabs back when this delicacy was available only a few weeks out of the year and not flash frozen and served year 'round as it is these days.  But the vibe -- to use that overused Seventies word -- was something else at the Blue Crab as it filled up and Snakegrinder tuned up.   
I had put together brief opening remarks -- thank yous to Dick and the band, mention of a great one-off Mike MacGuinness poster we were to silent auction to raise money for a charity, and most importantly, reading a list of the Dearly Missed, as Flip put it, some 32 people who had left this mortal coil during and since the Seventies whom I noted wouldn't be with us in person, but certainly would be with us in spirit.
"Hardly a day has gone by in the past two months or so that I have not found myself in touch with a friend from many years in the past, sometimes 40 years in the past," I said in conclusion.  "Today’s event was not intended to be anything more than an opportunity to sell some books and hear a bunch of guys play great music one more time.  But it has taken on a meaning well beyond that because it's so obvious what a great little community we had back in the day, that so many people wanted to be a part of this."  
And so we partied like it was the Seventies.  
Snakegrinder opened with "Sugaree," the Jerry Garcia-Robert Hunter classic, and it was obvious from the first note that they had come not merely to play, but to tear the house down.  The band was tight and George was in fine form.  Dave even joined in from the Philippines, lip-synching on one song via a Skype connection.   And no, it was not like "the old days," although the floor was filled with writhing and ecstatic masses just like the old days.  This is because Snakegrinder played even better.  They were so much older then.  They are younger than that now.
At one point, I was chatting with an old head who lives and dies for bluegrass and nothing else.  This musical snob had been dragged to the event by a girlfriend.  "My god! They're tremendous!" he exclaimed as the band ripped through a cover of Little Feat's "Fat Man in the Bathtub," and soon was dancing himself.  
The afternoon ended on a wonderful, show-stopping note as Snakegrinder encored with "High on a Mountaintop," the folk and bluegrass classic penned by Ola Belle Campbell Reed, the legendary folk songwriter, singer and banjo player, with Alex Reed.    
Ola Belle, along with her son and assorted other members of a pick-up band, had played far into the night at two Flag Day parties at the farm. 
The closing lyrics to "High on a Mountaintop":
High on a mountain top, standing all alone.  Wondering where the years of my life have flown.  
High on a mountaintop, wind blowing free.  Thinking about the days that used to be. 
High on a mountain top, standing all alone.  Wondering where the years of my life have flown .
High on a mountaintop, wind blowing free.  Thinking about the days that used to be. 
High on a mountain topThinking about the days that used to be.  And I wonder if you ever think of me. 
To which Tommy added these tear-invoking words:
When Luna left, it brought a tear to my eye.  But when you put down Bart, I broke right down and cried. 
And one man's story told, brings back all these friends of old.  It tells me Medford and Newark still have got a lot of pride.  
Snakegrinder's second set that evening was, if anything even better.  George's vocal and the backing instrumentals on "Love Junkie" were perfection.  And how about Tommy's Nudie Cohn sequined jacket. (Here's a complete set list.) 
Two hundred or so people did indeed party like it was the Seventies, boogalooing the afternoon and evening away.  They included six members of the tribe and, by my rough count, perhaps a dozen other folks who made cameo appearances in There's A House, including John "Beet" Bailey, who asked band members and others to sign his copy of the book.  Other folks soon did the same with their copies. 
(There are many great photographs of this special day and evening.  Be sure to check out Rhonda Machulski Brown's superb photo album on Facebook.)   
You could feel the love, as one person described it.  And as Tommy told me, "It was particularly rewarding to see how the next generation . . . [including] my daughters and the young staff at the Blue Crab, reacted.  You can attempt to tell kids what it was like back then, but to have them personally experience the vibe is a true gift from the past that will forever enrich their understanding of and regard for us." 
I've had a few days to think about it, and can say with confidence that as I lay in bed that night, my hand sore from writer's cramp, those Dearly Missed were in my dreams.  I could feel their presence.  It was as if they had come to thank me for inviting them.
George Wolkind, of course, summed up the day best in a note he posted on Facebook:
To all of you who came to conquer time for just one day, Shalomaloha. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

This Old House: It's Having A 300th Birthday, But There Won't Be A Celebration

On rare occasions, history bequeaths us an opportunity to live in an old house that speaks deeply of its rich past, an experience that is far more common in the U.K. and Europe than the comparatively young U.S.
I had one such opportunity in the 1980s when I lived in the John Evans House, a gem of an architectural crazy quilt in a secluded valley north of Newark, Delaware near where Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon drew their famous line.  It is where my children were born and spent their early years, a rather isolated existence for youngsters who didn't have any place to ride their bikes, needed to be mindful of not getting too close when playing near the woodstove in the winter, and had to be driven to town to trick-or-treat on Halloween.  But even at their tender age they appreciated, as we grown-ups certainly did, the sublime beauty of the house and its surroundings.
The John Evans House is 300 years old this year, but there won't be a celebration.
This is because the U.S. is different than our cousins across the pond in another way.  We simply don't particularly value our past.  While the occasional old pile gets razed in the U.K. and Europe, old houses typically are revered, maintained through the ages and restored as necessary, while here too many old houses are just a wrecking ball away from a highway interchange, shopping center or burger joint.  Or worse, die a slow death from neglect, which is the fate of the Evans House.

John Evans was a Welsh Baptist who, as the story goes, sought a new life in the New World early in the 18th century to escape religious persecution.  He and his brother sailed to the Pennsylvania colony where they bought land in what would become Chester County in Southeastern Pennsylvania and the northernmost of the three lower Pennsylvania counties that were to become Delaware.  The seller was William Penn.  The nearest neighbors, Lenni Lenapes who had lived in the region for perhaps 2,000 years and had sold much of the valley to Penn in 1683, were not consulted. 
The Evans brothers sailed home, outfitted a ship and returned to the colony in 1715 with their families.  John Evans had the brick ballast from the ship transported to his land, some 400 acres in all, in that secluded valley hard by the confluence of the East and Middle Branches of White Clay Creek where he built a two-story gentleman's house of the ballast bricks with touches of what would become known as the Georgian architectural style.  The house grew and grew again later in the 18th century with the addition of a granite-fieldstoned center section containing a dining room and fireplace and three more bedrooms upstairs, one with a fireplace, and finally a story-and-a-half kitchen addition with a large walk-in fireplace.
The area around the house was farmed, but a mill and millrace were soon built nearby, and then grist and lumber mills and other businesses began springing up as the colony became a young republic and the nearby village of Landenberg grew and thrived.  The house passed out of the Evans family at some point and a succession of other families lived there, including an emigre family from Canada who operated a sod farm for some time in the 20th century on the fertile floodplain behind the house bordering the White Clay Creek.  (I know that because I found a son's Army dogtags under an opening in some attic floorboards and traced his ancestry.)
By the early 1960s, the house was somewhat in decline but still solid.  It was fronted by a white picket fence when I would ride my three-speed English bike into the valley from my family home a few miles away on high school-aged explorations.  I imagined what it would be like to live in this brick-and-stone gem and fantasized about being able to do so some day.
When I next saw the house a few years later, it was somewhat seedier but still solid.  The picket fence was gone and the valley and environs had been gobbled up by the DuPont Company, which was headquartered in nearby Wilmington, Delaware.  The chemical giant, which had an outsized presence and was enormously powerful in the region, intended to dam the White Clay and flood several thousand acres of the valley, submerging the Evans House, the church Evans built in 1729 in thanksgiving for his good fortune, and dozens of other structures.  A magnificent habit for rare flora, including wild orchids, and 33 species of mammals, 27 species of amphibians and reptiles, including the endangered bog turtle, 24 species of fish, and 93 species of birds would be wiped out in the service of supplying water from a massive reservoir to a textile manufacturing plant DuPont wanted to build north of Newark, Delaware.
But in a twist of fate that help seal the career a young politician who was to rise to national prominence, the house and valley were saved.
DuPont had consolidated its grip on the valley by secretly razing houses.  One day there would be a house and the next day a newly landscaped and seeded lawn.  Some were simple bungalows, but a few were historically significant, including the magnificent three-story and balconied Elzey House on Sharpless Road off London Tract Road, which was reminiscent of the Deer Park Tavern in Newark before it was bulldozed and buried, a crime against the history and famous architecture of the lovely area if ever there was one. 
(The Evans House may be the oldest still standing in the valley even if George Washington never slept there.  A cabin made of chestnut logs said to have been built in the 1680s sat uphill on the far side of the White Clay, but it was destroyed in an arson fire well before DuPont bigfooted onto the scene.)
EVANS HOUSE -- ca. 2000
DuPont began curbing its less altruistic corporate instincts because of furious opposition to the dam and reservoir from an unlikely coalition of foes: Dorothy Miller, a birding enthusiast and devoted environmentalist, a sportsman's club affiliated with the United Auto Workers Union at the Newark Chrysler Assembly Plant, and Sally Rickerman and Jan Kalb, whom I jokingly referred to as Attack Quakers in my admiration for their outspoken faith-based belief in saving the valley, which they happened to treasure and where their own historic homes were located.  I did my part as a young editor at the Wilmington News Journal, where I assigned a reporter to write a series of stories on the mysteriously disappearing houses, which a DuPont mouthpiece initially denied had disappeared at all.
With the indefatigable Dot Miller leading the charge, the coalition fought DuPont to a standstill and then in 1970 a slate of Democrats was swept into office in New Castle County, Delaware on a reform platform that included opposition to the dam and reservoir, which had been backed by the deeply entrenched DuPont-friendly Republican incumbents.  (The News Journal also was DuPont friendly and pro dam and reservoir, and I caught flak for the stories.)  
Among the newly elected reformers was a 28-year-old county councilman by the name of Joe Biden.
It was not until 1982 that the future of the Evans House seemed to be assured.  That was when Biden, by then a veteran U.S. senator, and colleague Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania sponsored legislation under which DuPont would receive a generous one-time tax break, which no one talked about, by deeding the valley to the states of Delaware (3,300 acres) and Pennsylvania (1,255 acres) in perpetuity for a preserve -- as opposed to a park -- that beyond rustic trails and the occasional gravel parking lot would remain undeveloped and largely undisturbed. 
In Pennsylvania, this sylvan wonder is known as the White Clay Creek Preserve, while in Delaware it is called the White Clay Creek State Park, an adjunct of the Walter S. Carpenter State Park.  The icing on this environmental cake came in 2000 when President Clinton signed a law adding 190 miles of the White Clay Creek and its tributaries to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The White Clay was the first wild and scenic river in the United States designated on a watershed basis rather than a river corridor.  (We can thank Biden and then-Delaware Governor Tom Carper for that rule-bending sleight of hand.)
Meanwhile, with DuPont as my landlord, my boyhood dream had come true and I had been living in the Evans House since 1981.  With the deed transfer, my rent checks went to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources.
From the start, the Pennsylvania side of the Preserve was woefully underfunded, and we made "sweat equity" repairs to the Evans House in return for reduced rent. These repairs were, for the most part, fairly minor, although we never did get the skid marks out of a corner of the living room floor, which a neighbor later told us were from the kickstands of motorcycles parked there when bikers had briefly used the house.  But for being 270 years old, the house was in extraordinarily good condition and nearly as structurally sound as the day John Evans had opened the front door to his family for the first time.
The house remained in that condition, if a little rough around the edges, until after the tenant who moved in after we moved out, when the inevitable deterioration commenced that befalls old houses that are not kept up.
Private groups expressed an interest in preserving the now vacant house.  Under one proposal, it would have become a museum.  But the cost of restoration would have been prohibitive -- at least a half million in late 1980s dollars, according to my estimate at the time -- and neither the groups nor the state had that kind of money.  The deterioration proceeded unchecked.
Looking back, the house's fate was determined when the state did an inadequate job of closing it up.  We probably can blame that chronic underfunding of parks and the other things that really matter, although that excuse has become profoundly disingenuous in an era when the Pennsylvania government has opened our lands to rapacious frackers, but only a trickle of the billions in natural gas that energy companies pump out of our ground ever finds its way back into state coffers and places like the Preserve where it might really make a difference.
Anyhow, houses like people need to breathe, and this is especially true of old houses as temperatures and humidity cycle up and down.  This house's doors and windows were sealed with plywood boards instead of boards with louvers, which preservationists commonly use.  Louvers would have allowed the house and its floors, walls, ceilings, attic and roof to breathe and not suffocate, slowing its deterioration until an angel with deep pockets might come along.
The memories came flooding back in September 2015 when I stopped by to pay my respects to the John Evans House, as I always do when I'm in the area.  The valley, on the cusp of summer and autumn, was brilliantly sunlit and songbirds heralded my presence, as they always do. 
The roof had been more or less in place, if a little leaky, on my previous visit a year or so earlier.  But on this day the house sat forlorn and very much neglected.  There was hideous graffiti on some of the first floor plywood boards and the roof and attic dormer windows were collapsing inward. Vegetation had overtaken and seized the back of the house, covering the windows from which we watched the sun burn off the mist over the creek on many a morning, slowly but surely assisting in the team effort of time and neglect to pull down and eventually transform to rubble an irreplaceably beautiful house and monument to local history. 
I wept then, and all over again today when I learned that a fire had finished what the state of Pennsylvania had begun.