David E. Steiner

Retired USAF, Teacher, Dad, Grandfather, Curmudgeon

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Looking for Pitch (2001)

 

About a hundred years ago the last great fires swept through our valley, 10 miles south of Estes Park, destroying almost everything except stands of mature Ponderosa pines. In response, the burning trees had their sap driven deep into the trees’ interiors. Some remained standing for a time, but most fell and when their exteriors had rotted away what remained was the tough interior, preserved by the heat driven sap. The wood in time turned a beautiful gray and was hard and solid. The stub ends of the branches or pine knots, stuck out of the trunks like gray fingers, and they, like the trunks and roots, were full of the sap. Distilled by the heat of the fires, this thick substance we then called “pitch.”

This hard wood burned fiercely in a stove or fireplace. My mother, now 93, clearly recalls the heat, the smell, the sound of crackling and the sight of the pitch dripping, a river of fire, as the wood burned with a nearly white flame.

Fifty-five years ago, when I was young, the forest floor was covered with these remnants, and those of us who lived here could wander about and pick up the pine knots long after the trunk had rotted, or knock them out of the trunk with a hatchet, to burn in our kitchen wood stoves and cut up trunks and roots for our fireplaces. For several years one could purchase from Otto Walter an entire load of pitch for a fireplace. It was, however, a finite resource, and it is now virtually all gone. To a large extent early lodges were built of this wood. It was beautiful and nearly everlasting, requiring no paint or preservatives. Longs Peak Inn, among many others, was built of this wood. You can still see it at Meeker Park Lodge in the porch and throughout the interior. When Longs Peak Inn burned, it made quite a fire.

Today this nearly vanished wood has become a metaphor for our many other finite resources. California’s power problems are an expression of this metaphor. Our own difficulties with natural gas and our reliance on foreign oil remind us that we are dealing with the “pitch” of the planet; these are finite resources. We can drill in Alaska and elsewhere for oil and gas, strip mine all the coal in Wyoming and build dams. But they are all finite resources, as well as terrible disturbances to the system we call the environment, and there will come a day when all of them are gone and the dam lakes filled with silt, used up like the last pine knots in our stoves.

As we get closer to the inevitable day our descendants will have to face, those of us alive now are just beginning to see that finding pitch is getting tougher. In what amounts to the blink of a cosmic eye we have used much of what the planet has to offer as easy sources of energy.

The creatures that came before us survived for millions of years by living within the environment, surviving by their own energy, eating the plants and each other and doing little or no damage to the planet itself while they lived and nourishing it when they died.

We complain that the elk and deer eat our gardens, but they’re are only doing what they have done for thousands of years, and, like the vegetation they consume, they’re a renewable resource.  Certainly their predations aren’t at the level of the building going on all around us that will require more water, more heat, more electricity, more oil and oil-based products, more gas, more steel, aluminum, copper, and the list goes on, all of it demanding energy from finite resources. Only Man has sought and torn energy from the planet, and it’s now obvious that not only are these sources finite, the end is in sight. Left to themselves, our wapati and Alaska’s caribou have a better chance of survival than we do.

Some million years from now our mountains will look much as they do today. But unless we find more and better pitch, our species isn’t going to be here and the forest floor will once again have plenty of pine knots.

 

 

Columns

© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner

Allenspark Wind Columns:

Introduction

Why Allenspark?

Going Riding [August, 1985]

Electricity

Used Cars

Peace and Quiet [1986]

Liberals & Conservatives

Going to the Movies

The Screened Porch

The Beginning of The Season

The Weather

The Hilltop Guild Bazaar

The End of The Season

The Gift of Time

The Beavers

Addresses [1987]

Hiking

Watching the Trees Grow

Postal Rates

Changes in Estes Park

Square Dancing at the Pow Wow

Back to the Hilltop Guild Bazaar

The Solstices

Bird Feeders

Elevators

The Estes Park Hardware Store [1988]

Visitors

Limousine Service

A Memorial Service

A Hummingbird

Garbage

A Hiking Trip

The Estes Park Public Library

Wild Life

Riparian Rights [1989]

Weather

Fences

Commuting

Mountain Friendliness

A Motorcycle Trip

Satellite Television

“Weaving Mountain Memories”

Hotel Rates in the Old Days

The Price of Propane [1990]

The Front Range Almanac

June

Modes of Transportation

Miller Moths

My 50th Column

Modern Conveniences

Rock Climbing

On the Death of Otto Walter, Postmaster

Otto’s Memorial Service

A Big Owl Pot-Luck Dinner

A Whine About Telephone Service [1991]

After the Persian Gulf War

Some Changes in the WIND

The Trip to the Mountains

The Mountains in the Summer

Visitors

Of Dogs, Music, and Children

Muhlenburg County

To My Grandson

The Sale of Longs Peak Inn

World War II  [1992]

Murphy’s Law and the Computer

The South St. Vrain Canyon

“Whiteout”

The Hazards of Volunteering

Crime in Our Valley

Infestations

On the Death of Charles Eagle Plume

Can We All Get Along?

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

Lost Horizon [1993]

Walking

Rumors About a Visit by the Pope

Progress?

More About Fences

Woodpeckers

The Visit of Pope John Paul II

Forest Fires

The New Sewage System

The Snow Pool

The Good Old Days [1994]

The WIND’s 20th Anniversary

The Bunce School

The Shooting Gallery

The Estes Park Museum

Our Government

U.S. West Takes a Hit

The Year of the Hummingbirds

A New “Yield” Sign

Growth in Allenspark

Private Telephones?

The Salvation Army

Creation Science [1995]

Devolutionizing Big Government

Risks

Airports

Fort D.A. Russell

Domestic Terrorism

Old and New

Barney Graves

Life in the Wilderness

What’s In a Name?

Arthur C. Clarke

 

The Estes Park Trail-Gazette Columns:

July 1983

Carpentry

Estes Cone

Johnny Grant

Observations in Estes Park

The Bath House

Waving

The Sutherland’s Ice House

How Old is Charles Eagle Plume?

Dogs

Christmas Trees

Tree Murder

Mountain Driving

Garbage

Mail Boxes

More About Mail Boxes

“Are you related to ....?”

Spring

An Accident

The Wild Cat

A July Reunion

A Visit to Baldpate Inn

Opening Cabins

Summer

The Times, They Have Changed

Death and Transfiguration

The Population Explosion

The March of Time

Faith-Based Social Services

Looking for Pitch

Recent Writings I

Recent Writings II

Recent Writings III

Recent Writings IV

Recent Writings V

Recent Writings VI

 

 

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