Don't Touch Me / I Want to Tell You

Don't Touch Me

"Don't Touch Me." Music by Hank Cochran. Guitars by Jason Fickel. Photography by Constance Furey.

Description of the video:

Guitar music. 

I Want to Tell You

*after This Connection of
Everyone with Lungs
Juliana Spahr

If noli me tangere prohibits clinging not touch, then the
story in John 20:11-18 that is about many things is also
about the relationship between touching and telling.[1]

Do not cling to me but go and tell what you’ve seen Je-
sus says to Mary Magdalene when she reaches out to
touch him.

Other stories, doubting Thomas for example, link touch
to belief, but this one says if you hold too tight you
cannot tell what needs to be told.

I want to tell you about the montage Jason and I made,
the dust and the light and the road cuts and the igneous
layers we saw from the highways.

I want to tell you what it meant for my father to work
for the United States Forest Service in the 1970s, to en-
gineer roads that logging companies used in the Shasta
National Forest and the Medicine Bow National Forest
and the San Juan National Forest.

I want to tell you that, while he was engineering roads
logging companies used to cut and ship and sell wood,
and fire crews used to suppress the fires that make new
growth possible, my father also liked to walk in the
woods with me and teach me the difference between
piñon and lodge pole pine and show me how the forest
floor gets thick and spongy and point out how beaver
cut trees and make dams and explain the shortsighted
-ness of USFS policies.

I want to tell you that my father quit his job in 1979 and
started a business and thought his ability to make a liv-
ing might depend on a molybdenum mine on Mt. Em-
mons,[2]and how that put him at odds with some of the
people who moved to the valley for some of the same
reasons he did: because it is beautiful and the daytime
sky is blue and the nighttime sky is starry and the rivers
look clear and the aspen are golden in fall and you can,
or could, still hike up to glacier fields and see big horn
sheep in the rocks.

I want to tell you that the people who opposed the mine
on Mt. Emmons did so because they knew it could de-
stroy what had brought them there and that my father
knew that too but that he also knew that land is never

In 2022 more than 32% of land in western states was
classified as experiencing extreme or exceptional dr-

U.S. Geological Survey researchers predicted climate
change in the Upper Colorado River Basin could cause
groundwater flows into streams to fall by 33%.

In the summers of 2021 and 2022 many people who
lived in the mountains in western states could not see
them because of the smoke.[4]

I want to tell you that the guitar melody in the montage
we made is from a classic country song that says don’t
touch me if you don’t love me.[5]

The montage includes a video I took of the J.R. Simplot
mine near what is now called Vernal, Utah, in land geo-
logists identify as the Upper Basin and geographers est-
imate was inhabited at the time of European contact by
75,000 people known in English as Northern Shoshone
and Bannock Eastern Shoshone and Ute.

I can tell you this number, and these names, because of
a book about pre-historic human impacts on fire re-
gimes in the northern intermountain west.

The book tells us that people don’t know what they
mean when they say landscape is “humanized” or

When I took the video at the J.R. Simplot mine near
what is now called Vernal, Utah I could not say what
any of it meant, not the soil, nor the tailings, nor the
steel of the car we drove, nor the lithium of the device I
held in my hand, nor the hand of the person who waited
while I took a photo of the sign that the mining com-
pany – or was it the state of Utah – created to tell us what

Ore from the mine is crushed to less than inches
and conveyed to an ore storage pile above the
SAG (Semi Autogenous Grinding) mill. The ore
can then be funneled through a chute and into
the grinding process as it is needed.
Concentrated phosphate rock slurry is sent
through a density separator and concentrate
thickener to remove excess water. Slurry can
then be pipelined 96 miles to a processing plant
in Rock Springs, Wyoming.
Once in Rock Springs, phosphate rock is
processed with sulfuric acid, then mixed with
ammonia and other chemicals to create fertilizer.
Fertilizer product is distributed throughout the
West and Midwest for use in agricultural
applications. Although the only product made in
Rock Springs is fertilizer, phosphate can also be
used in a variety of other applications including
soft drinks, pickling, pharmaceuticals, denture
dements, textiles, lithography, jellies, and

This sign also tells many other things, including how
useful portions of the rock are extracted and unwanted
material sent to the tails impoundment facility.

When I took the picture of the sign with these words I
didn’t know how to tell what they mean. I still don’t.

I do not know how to touch the land without taking too
much, or how to stop clinging, and to hear and to see
and to learn and to remember what needs to be told.

[1] Sara Winter, “Mary Magdalene’s Encounter in the Garden” 
[4] “Facts and Figures: Weather Whiplash,” High Country News, vol. 24, January 2022, 18-19.
[5] “Don’t Touch Me,” by Hank Cochran (1966)
[6] Thomas R. Vale, ed., Fire, Native Peoples, and The Natural Landscape (Washington: Island Press, 2002). The population figures and regional designations are depicted in Figure 1.3, p11, and the list of Native American tribe names in Box 2.1 p47.


Jason Fickel is a Bloomington-based guitarist and songwriter who has performed in juke joints, coffeehouses, festivals, farmers markets, radio stations, and beyond –including at the IU Cinema, providing live accompaniment to silent films.

Constance Furey grew up in small towns – really small towns – in northern California, Colorado, and Wyoming, and now writes and teaches, mostly about religion, at Indiana University Bloomington.

Our project takes the words spoken by Jesus to Mary Magdalene in the garden after she discovers his empty tomb — noli me tangere (“touch me not”) — as a provocation for reflection on the COVID-19 pandemic, and on other pandemics, viral and social, that engulf us.