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Recent Writings II
Geology, Faith and Our Mountains
How old are our mountains? If you believe scientists, our mountains began to be formed some five thousand million years ago, when our planet was young. Since then there were a series of uplifts and erosions beginning about 130 million years ago and the region really began to rise about 70 million years ago. Between 29 and 24 million years ago there was significant volcanic activity in the area of the present Never Summer mountains. Recently, only two million years ago, the climate cooled and the first of several Ice Ages began, the last of which began about 30,000 years ago, reached its height 22,000 years ago and ended 12,000 years ago.
One of the largest glaciers, 13 miles long, filled Forest Canyon in the Park. At Forest Canyon Overlook it’s easy to visualize what that river of ice must have looked like. A much smaller series of glaciers carved our own Tahosa Valley.
But there are those who believe that the earth and all of its topography is much younger. I have been reading a book, written and compiled by Tom Vail, called Grand Canyon, a different view, and it certainly is a different view. It contends, based on the essays of some 24 people, that the Grand Canyon was carved out in 40 days and 40 nights. On the website promoting the book and rafting trips is the following:
For years, Colorado River guide Tom Vail told people how the Grand Canyon had formed over the evolutionary time scale of millions of years. Then he met Jesus. Experience North America’s biggest whitewater on this Christ-centered motorized rafting trip through a canyon with walls over a mile high. This once-in-a-lifetime experience will explore one of His grandest creations while spending time each day in God's Word and singing praises to the Lord. Share the enjoyment of this natural wonder of the world with other Christians. Learn how the effects of Noah’s Flood, not millions of years of erosion, carved the Canyon.
There can be no objection to such excursions and no objection to the publication of such a book. But the book is for sale in the Grand Canyon’s book store, and while the book is handsomely produced and contains lovely pictures, its sale in the Park bookstore worries me.
I worry mostly because our education system’s lack of emphasis on science has led to a situation in which not one college graduate in a hundred can explain the phases of the moon any better than stone-age man. To believe that our mountains were formed 6,000 years ago or that the Grand Canyon could be carved in six weeks is to demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of the laws of physics. Selling such a book in the confines of a National Park has the appearance of sanction by the Federal Government, saying, in effect, it’s okay to ignore science and to believe that Noah’s flood carved the Grand Canyon in six weeks. Will we then see books in the RMNP bookstores claiming that the Park is no more than 6,000 years old?
When a child goes to http://www2.nature.nps.gov/geology//parks/romo and finds the geology in billions of years and then sees in the bookstore a book that says that is wrong, that our mountains are less than 6,000 years old, what can the child believe? Who can the child believe? When one book claims that life on earth is only 5,000 years old and another claims life began 3 billion years ago and both are given the apparent approval of the federal government how is a child to reconcile the difference? If the child learns math, physics, chemistry, and biology there will be a foundation for looking for the truth of the matter. But math, physics, chemistry and biology get short shrift in elementary and secondary education in this country. Is it possible that, as in the 15th century, scient
Anybody who's been here more than a couple of weeks has run into the bureaucracy of the county or the state. Now a bunch of bureaucrats in Washington have reached the brilliant conclusion that two administrations "failed to galvanize the bureaucracy" when it comes to terrorism. Galvanizing is something bureaucracies don't do. Whether we want to build, drill, or just fix a road or mail something we always have to deal with the many levels of responsibility and the addiction to routine. We call it "red tape." Now that same bunch of bureaucrats, ostensibly in favor of smaller government, is recommending that a new cabinet post be created. That would be two new cabinet posts in this administration. So much for smaller government.
A bureaucrat is an official in a government organization, and I plead guilty; I've been a bureaucrat most of my life.
Part of what I've learned is that a bureaucracy is a growing, living thing. It grows by creating new jobs, rules, regulations, or laws. When I joined the Air Force its regulations were contained in a bookcase about five feet long. Today that bookcase is about 60 feet long. Most other elements of our country's bureaucracy have seen similar growth. Growth requires more bureaucrats. The percentage of Americans who work for the government grows every year.
We complain about all this, but of course it wouldn't exist if we didn't support it to some degree. Most of us have even profited from it at one time or another, and we enjoyed that feeling of beating the system. Of course we need some rules if we're all going to get along. Many rules exist simply because somebody did something foolish. The Air Force has a rule that prohibits flying under bridges simply because some idiot did it for fun and crashed a perfectly good airplane. And you may have noticed that most government rules and regulations and laws don't let you do something. Almost all of them prevent you from doing something or require you to get permission to do something.
This has become interesting lately because in the past if you wanted to get married you had to get permission from the government and you had to get a blood test and you had to find someone who had the state's permission to marry people. So there was quite a bit of red tape involved in what is essentially a spiritual union rather than a governmental one. So when homosexuals decided they wanted to marry, the bureaucracy, mired as it is in routine, sort of blew a fuse. A quick look at the piles of regulations revealed that there was nothing to prevent homosexuals from marrying. There was scripture, to be sure, but no bureaucrat wants to deal with revealed literature unless it's been revealed by legislators, commissioners, lawyers or other bureaucrats. The result is something of a mess as some bureaucrats issue marriage licenses and others rush to create rules to prevent it. Amending the Constitution to prohibit something probably isn't a good idea.; we tried prohibiting alcohol and then had to repeal it.
It's also become interesting because the problem of dealing with terrorism has so far defied the abilities of the federal bureaucracy to adjust to what is too new and different.
Bureaucracies and bureaucrats don't like the new and different. First it has to be assigned to be studied. This usually requires hiring more people. This is the only thing about the new and different bureaucrats like. Then new rules have to be formulated by individuals, approved by committees and tested for legality by lawyers. This process can and does take years simply because the bureaucracy is now so big and has so many people and so many levels of responsibility.
History tells us that all bureaucracies eventually topple, most as a result of their own weight, and ours will probably not be an exception. If we didn't support it, that wouldn't happen. The fact is that while we complain, there's just enough about it we approve of, particularly when it keeps a neighbor or nation from doing something we don't like, to keep us not only from dismantling it, but letting it grow.
"Bureaucrats write memoranda both because they appear to be busy when they are writing and because the memos, once written, immediately become proof that they were busy."
Next of Kin
The pages of this journal often record the deaths of residents and former residents. We have very few births to report, so it's mostly deaths.
Along Big Owl Road, in just a one mile stretch, there is a long list of friends and neighbors whom I knew and who have died: Armstrong, Bath, Johnson, Yeager, Silkworth, Von Holst, Mann, Schultz, Dakan, Bullock, Inglis, Almy, Waite, Morris.
Nearly all lived long, happy, productive lives, and they were fortunate, as I am, to be able to live part of their lives in our valley.
In the Air Force, however, death was a different matter. It came to the young. I lost friends and colleagues who had much to live for and whose deaths in Southeast Asia seemed to have less purpose than they should.
I flew hundreds of missions in the Air Force. Some were routine, some were dangerous, many were difficult. But the most difficult job I had to do had nothing to do with flying. When I returned to the United States I was assigned duty in an ROTC detachment in San Jose, California. Twice, because there was no Air Base close by, I was given the task of notifying next-of-kin that their relative in the Air Force had died.
In WW II so many were killed in action that telegrams were sent. People dreaded getting a telegram during the war. Twenty-five years ago, when I had to do it, I was given a letter I had to read, exactly, to the relative. It began "As a representative of the Secretary of the Air Force, I regret to inform you…"
The first time I had to do it I met a woman outside her home early one morning as she was returning home from a night shift as a nurse. Her son had been killed in a training accident when his vehicle overturned. She went completely to pieces. I was alone and felt quite helpless. I did what I could to comfort her, but I suspect here cries could be heard many houses away. There was a package of information I was required to leave with her with telephone number she was to call, but it all seemed very inadequate and I was left with the feeling that I'd not done enough and that her son's death must have seemed to her to be without much purpose. Nothing heroic. Not in combat; just a kid who died because of mechanical failure or carelessness.
The second time was two days after Christmas and I could not face the task alone, so, on her birthday, and against regulations, I asked Mary to accompany me. This time it was a husband, wife and their daughter who invited us into their house, where Christmas wrapping paper was still under the tree. Their reaction was very different, but the case was even more tragic: their young son and his wife and small child had left them to drive to his base in Texas, but he had fallen asleep at the wheel, the car had crashed into a bridge abutment and all had been killed. Perhaps the terrible facts didn't really sink in until after we were gone, but they seemed to be able to call upon some inner strength at that moment and were able to maintain their control. Mary, an obstetric RN who had too much experience in comforting families who lost babies in childbirth, was of immense help. And once again these deaths had nothing heroic about them. They seemed senseless and useless and all the more tragic.
Notifications are not much different today. There is an attempt to send a chaplain, but that's not always possible. And for those who die in Iraq, a general officer can be requested to attend the funeral. We have more generals these days than we did 35 years ago.
I think of those friends and colleagues in Southeast Asia who died and the more than 1,000 families who have been notified of the deaths of their husbands, wives, sons and daughters and what they are going through, and I think of those who have to notify them. Perhaps if those who ordered them into danger had to notify the next of kin when they died, they might think long and hard about resorting to war.
The Good Old Days
Those who weren’t here this past summer may not be aware of the recent improvements to the road in the South St. Vrain Canyon. Except for a two mile portion at the very bottom, the road has been much improved from Glacier View on down. The surface is smooth and well marked and the center line is grooved to remind drivers to stay on their side of the road.
This kind of progress reminds me that in the Good Old Days it took much longer to reach Lyons and the mysterious and too-busy world beyond. When my parents married in 1927 both the roads and the vehicles were much more dangerous than they are today. People had to shop in The Village, which is what we called Estes Park, and my parents often hitched a ride with a gentleman they knew as “Bony,” who raised chickens and turkeys on what is now the Smitherman ranch. They rode on the back of the truck with the birds on their way to market.
Many things were delivered in the summers until around 1950. A bread truck came by once a week with all manner of baked goods. A milk truck made frequent deliveries from a dairy in Longmont. We had an ice box, filled with ice blocks from the Sutherland’s ice house, and it kept things reasonably fresh, but we had to make frequent trips until 1948 to The Village for fresh foods. We heated our cabin with wood, chopped down trees and sawed them up with a big cross-cut hand saw. We split the wood with wedges and a sledge hammer.
In the 1920s and 30s auto trips from our valley were not undertaken lightly. The dirt road down the Baldpate hill went past the Baldpate Inn and then by a series of switchbacks which can still be seen today to the east of Highway 7. The trip took quite a while and engines and brakes weren’t nearly as reliable as they are today. Cars carried extra water and it was common to see people stopped on the road, giving their engines a rest and putting water in steaming radiators. The dust required frequent trips to Mr. McCollister to change the oil and lubricate the chassis.
Illness or injury required a difficult and lengthy trip down the canyons to the nearest hospital.
We tend to think of those times as the Good Old Days, but in fact they left a lot to be desired. Today we have much better roads, better vehicles and all that those provide, but as with most things involved with progress, they come at a price. Noise, for example. People who apparently got too little attention as children now have very loud motorcycles and their exhausts are pretty much a constant on any day when it’s not raining or snowing. Many vehicles now have tires that make much more noise than standard passenger tires. Gene Mackey’s noisy grader is a sound to which many of us look forward. Our wonderful volunteers often must use their sirens on their errands of mercy. Illness or injury now sometimes requires the use of helicopters. The summer valley air resonates with the sound of chain saws and log splitters, mine included.
I often tell the WIND board that I resent having lived long enough to become the corporate memory of this journal. But the fact is that I’ve lived through a number of sound and visual technologies: 78 and 33 1/3 RPM records, audio tape, reel-to-reel, 8 track and cassette, video tape, (my first video recorder in 1977 was a format no longer in existence) VHS (which stands for Video Home System and I’ll bet you didn’t know that) and Beta, which failed, laser discs, computers and visual hard drives, DVRs, such as TiVo®. I’ve probably left some out. Maybe some you spent money on and had cause to regret it, as I have.
The WIND’s first computers are now in some land-fill, with millions of others, along with several of my computers, recorders, tapes and computer and video discs.
So I was determined, against all common sense, to commit my library of VHS tapes and laser discs to Digital Video Discs, although I know in my heart that a few years from now my heirs will be saying, “What? DVDs? These are collectors items.”
Still, I think I have to keep trying.
In the course of what some would call a fool’s errand, I came across a VHS tape entitled “Christmas 1984.” So I put it into the one VHS player I still have, preparing to transfer it to my new DVD burner (I speak “digital”), and I discovered, to my astonishment and delight, two people, dear friends, now dead, who were still alive on video tape. There on the screen, twice as large as the screen I owned in 1984, I saw Emily Johnson and Charles Eagle Plume, both of whom came to Christmas dinner in 1984. Twenty years ago, and yet here they were, laughing, joking, enjoying eggnog and Manhattans as though it were yesterday.
The almost two hour tape includes some pictures that fixed the tape in time: 1980s cars. My mother, who lived in California, had rented a big Chrysler. I remember she got it stuck in a snow drift. Our younger son had a huge 1976 Plymouth. We had the idea that a big car would make him safer. What were we thinking?
But other than that, there’s not much to make the tape any different than what happens today. We still have the same home-made god’s eyes on the tree, the same star, we still have the same things for dinner. Of course Emily and Charles are gone, and we and my mother and our children are 20 years older, still much the same, a little more grey hair here and there, a few more pounds, the children now with wives and children, but all of us still much the same in temperament and personality as we were then.
My mother and Charles spent some time reliving their own pasts. They were both 76 at the time, and as I watched the analog tape spin I was reminded that I’m not all that far from that age myself. They talked about the people they knew, all long since dead and gone, and the good times they had together. As they talked I recalled some of the people they talked about. People I knew. People I missed. I had just pointed the camera at them and let it run.
Such are the blessings, sometimes serendipitous, of technology. Now the tape, like its predecessors, is in a land-fill, but the images are preserved in the latest digital technology, soon to be superseded by another. I hope that these moments, unlike those of only a couple of generations ago, will survive in mediums to come, to enlighten our heirs about who we were who lived in this valley before them, what we looked like, what we sounded like, what we talked about, who and what we loved.
Many of us long for the peace and quiet of the Good Old Days, but that would probably come at a price not many of us would be willing to pay. And yet on a winter day, after a snow storm and the snow plows have finished their work, it’s still possible to listen to the silence and consider how much has been lost in the wake of progress.
Getting Older (2005)
A new year and I’m another year older. This depressing fact, along with it being January, reminds me that I’m one of the 47 million Americans who receive some form of Social Security benefit. Those benefits represent about 4.4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product and it’s going to rise to more than 6 percent by 2030, when my children may be eligible and I will no longer be a factor. The benefits will probably exceed the income around 2019 unless something is done. 2019? But the President is telling us that this situation is dire, a crisis, a threat so imminent that something must be done about it this month, if not sooner. The wolf is at the door!
Many of us in this beautiful valley are able to live here because of Social Security. It’s reasonable that we should be concerned. Social Security is about as old as I am, and it’s been one of the country’s best, most stable and most useful federal programs ever invented. But if it’s to continue to the end of this century and beyond it will have to be changed. It’s been changed in the past, and it’s time to change it again.
How should it be changed? That’s the question. We all know the question. What we don’t know is what the answer will be.
President Bush’s answer is to privatize, at least partially, Social Security, a solution that will cost perhaps a trillion dollars to start up, but will give citizens control over their money. It would also provide work for lawyers, bankers, investment counselors and investment for companies.
There are a couple of problems with that solution. The most obvious one is that it’s been tried before, and the crash of 1929 which wiped out millions of retirement accounts was the reason Social Security was invented. Is it possible that something like that could happen again?
The second problem is that there’s no guarantee this solution will actually increase revenues to the point that they will match or surpass outlays.
We are all living longer. We’re also working longer and making more money. Currently the Social Security tax is capped at $87,900. That figure goes up every year, next year to $90,000 and it probably needs to go up considerably higher than that. Today we can start collecting Social Security at the age of 62. Most of us are still working at that age. The retirement age should probably be raised as life expectancy increases. We might also reduce spending. Not going to war so often would be a nice start. Another would be to scrap the $93 billion anti-missile system that it obsolete and doesn’t work. We could avoid funding things like the ground-hog museum.
These are moderate changes that would solve the problem, but there’s a big “if” involved. They would solve the problem if the federal government stopped using the current surplus to disguise the huge debt by borrowing from it. There’s no indication that Congress or the President wants to do that. They want to cut taxes and increase spending. Even the most meretricious politician knows that can’t continue. As a result, we have President Bush telling us that he has the solution and the situation is a crisis, dire and a threat we must do something about right now.
It seems we’ve heard this song before, and it turned out that the last crisis, which has so far killed or maimed more than 10,000 young Americans, wasn’t a crisis at all.
Whether the Congress will vote to privatize, or to raise the tax cap and retirement age is something we’ll see in the next few months. The more likely outcome is that Congress will decide to do nothing at all, to put it off until it really is a crisis, by which time it may be too late.
Since September 2001 the federal government has cried “Wolf!” so many times that when the wolf finally arrives in our valley it will find us all unsuspecting and will surely devour us.
The Twin Sisters Fire Lookout
The picture is, we think, Walter Kiener in front of the Twin Sisters fire lookout in the mid-1920s.
I know it’s the old wooden Twins Lookout because that’s how it looked when I first saw it in 1946. The Twins trail, which now starts above Lily Lake used to start just north of Enos Mills’ cabin. But it went through private property so it was changed a few years ago.
There were a number of fire lookouts in north central Colorado in the first half of the 20th century. The two nearest to the Twins are Shadow Mountain, near Grand Lake, a beautiful lookout with a massive stone base, and Deadman, north of Rocky Mountain National Park.
At one time there were hundreds. Kansas is the only state that has never had a fire lookout. Idaho at one time had 989. Only 196 of those still exist and 60 are staffed each summer. Shadow Mountain is abandoned and has been designated historic and Deadman, a modern steel tower is staffed by volunteers in the summer. Many empty lookouts can be rented through the Forest Service.
The Twins lookout’s beginning is somewhat obscure. The year it was built is a matter of some conjecture, but was probably 1919 at an elevation of 11, 428 feet.. It was replaced in 1962
by this structure, one of a number of standard lookout structures, this is a D6 and is mostly steel. I remember being impressed by the large slanted windows, which reduced glare.
In 1951 I was preparing to climb the east face of Longs Peak, so I was doing quite a bit of conditioning. At that time the lookout was staffed by a couple, young people recently married and new to the Forest Service. There has never been any drinkable water at the top of the Twins and the young man had to haul all the water they used from the spring quite a vertical distance from the lookout. Just five gallons weighs about 40 pounds, so hauling water was a constant and difficult job. In addition, they didn’t often have the opportunity to get fresh food.
I was making the Twins climb twice a day by way of the telephone lines, which ran straight up the west side of the north Twin. That route was frowned upon even then and eventually banned altogether, but in those days many climbed the Twins that way. I climbed in the morning, asked the couple if they would like something fresh and they gave me their requests. I think grapes were often on the list. I then went down, did the shopping, often at Meeker Park, and took the food back to them. I did that for a couple of weeks and got to know the lookout rather well. The lookout itself was too small for more than two people at a time. Whoever staffed the lookout lived in a stone house on the east side of the summit and some few feet below, sheltered from the prevailing west wind. That building still exists and now houses radio equipment.
Manning fire lookouts is expensive. Population growth and the use of satellites made manning towers a little redundant and in the mid-1970s most lookouts were closed, dismantled or staffed by volunteers. Alaska, which has the most severe fires of any state, has only two lookouts. But as with many other projects past their prime, fire lookouts have their own museum in Spokane, Washington. There’s even a Forest Fire Lookout Association.
In 1976 the Twins lookout was dismantled. Some of the anchors and cables are still visible.
The story of the Twins lookout reminds us that the only real constant in our valley is change. Impermanence for all living things as well as their creations is the norm. The Twins lookouts are just two things I wish I had paid more attention to at the time. It never occurred to me that one day I would miss them.
The Twin Sisters Fire Lookout
It seems to me that every year I write in this journal something about spring. Granted, it’s a lovely time of the year. Those who live far away are contemplating coming here. Those who live here are contemplating serving/helping/working for those who come here. It’s a lovely, symbiotic relationship that’s worked well for almost a hundred years.
In Lyons, when coming from Longmont you reach the first stoplight in “downtown” Lyons. If you look at the corner on the south side with the substantial stone front, you’re looking at what used to be the Lyons bank and at what was, for many years, the home of O.J. Ramey’s Insurance Office. O.J. was an interesting person who not only insured many of the summer homes around here but also occasionally invested in property. In the 1920s, 30s and early 40s insurance was inexpensive. Crime was nearly nonexistent. Property like our 140 acres cost $220 a year in taxes. It seemed like quite a bit of money at the time. Now it doesn’t seem like much.
During World War II when summer people were often unable to come to their summer places there were insurance losses. Every ice-box on our place was stolen. They were outside, but many cabins were broken into as well, and Mr. Ramey must have been a very busy and perhaps unhappy man in the summer of 1946, the first year after the war.
Spring is the time of year when we take our first close look at what the rest of the year is going to bring us, and this year, well, for one thing it looks as though gasoline is going to be up around $2.50 a gallon. What would Mr. McCollister, who owned the Allenspark gas station, have thought about that? When he retired gasoline was less than 40 cents a gallon. Of course he, like almost every American, endured very hard times during WWII when almost no one outside of the state was able to visit because of gas rationing. He couldn’t sell tires or much of anything else connected with automobiles. Still, the idea of gasoline at $2.50 a gallon would startle even him and he wasn’t easily startled.
My grandfather doubtless looked forward to the spring of 1919 and summer in the mountains. Two summers before he had purchased 160 acres on Big Owl Road and in the fall of 1918 more than 500,000 Americans died of what was called the Spanish flu and more than 20 million died world wide. The equivalent today would be more than 2 billion. Medical student Isaac Starr wrote: "As their lungs filled, the patients became short of breath and increasingly cyanotic. After gasping for several hours, they became delirious and incontinent, and many died struggling to clear their airways of a blood-tinged froth that sometimes gushed from their nose and mouth." The oldest cemetery at Grinnell, Iowa, where my grandfather was a professor, is littered with the tombstones of Grinnell residents, many of them children, who died that year. Some of those children recited a rhyme that swept the country like the flu:
I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza.
I opened the window,
Many of the pieces of land in our area date from that period, when people fled the cities for fear of the Spanish flu. For many hundreds of years before the arrival of tourists spring was the time of year when the Arapahos came looking for beaver. A time when the deer and elk and bear and many other animals anticipated the arrival of offspring. Offspring; a lovely word.
Spring, however, is not simply a time of renewal. It’s much more than the arrival of Pasque flowers, summer gasoline prices and tourists. Spring in our mountains is filled with the echoes of the lives and hopes and memories of all those, man and beast, who came before us, who looked forward to what the burgeoning year would bring. It might be renewal and it might be death. More than any other, it’s the season that reminds us most of the quite beautiful, mysterious, terrifying and marvelous cycle of life and the enduring majesty of our mountains.
The Spiritual Road to Flag Rank
Back in the 1920s and 30s a number of religious groups established summer places up here and others, such as the Salvation Army and Covenant Heights arrived much later. Religion has always been big in the valley and we’ve also had our share of divisions in the church next to the post office, some of which have resulted in even more congregations.
A hundred miles south on the edge of our mountains we now have quite a ruckus about religion at the Air Force Academy. It has interested me because in 1969 I was on active duty in the Air Force and the Academy learned that I was finishing a Ph.D in speech and theatre, so they asked me if I’d like to come to the academy for an interview about a possible job teaching in the English department, since the Academy had and still doesn’t have a communications department. Today they require only an undergraduate degree to apply; if they like you they’ll send you off to get a Masters.
I spent a day at the Academy, being shown around by a junior member, later the department chair, and I saw the stadium, the classrooms, the chapel, the library, the housing area and told all about the advantages of this assignment, which would have kept me out of the war in Southeast Asia. Finally, I was invited to a meeting of the faculty in the department chair’s office. I was asked if I was related to George Steiner. I’m not. They seemed disappointed. The Chair talked about the Triad Philosophy of the Academy: academic, military, athletics. Still, the symbol of the Academy and its most recognizable feature is its chapel, which I had visited and which, at the time, leaked badly. Students were encouraged, I was told, to attend chapel, which was supplied with services and chaplains for Protestants, Catholics and Jews.
It was at that point that I raised my hand and said that I was astonished that I had been there all day and this was the very first mention of students. Since I had already been teaching for several years I felt, and still feel, that my first obligation isn’t to the edifice or the administration, but to the students. I told them that I suspected I would not be a good fit, thanked them for the opportunity and left.
In subsequent years I met numbers of graduates of what were called, somewhat derisively, the Blue Zoo. And while their science and engineering training was impressive, their knowledge of writing, speaking, philosophy, psychology, economics was minuscule, and ethics nonexistent. But the Academy had certainly taught them the value of athletics, usually in the form of racquetball or golf, and church.
At the moment it is the spiritual aspect at the Academy that is under fire. There has been, it is charged, pressure put on cadets to participate in Chapel programs and to look down on those who have no church affiliation or an affiliation deemed un-American. The Academy now has an RSVP program: Respecting the Spiritual Values of all People. Still, the Commandant’s statement on the Academy web page says:” From survival school to flying sailplanes, you'll have opportunities to demonstrate 'excellence in all we do' while learning and growing physically, mentally and spiritually.” So no affiliation is still presumably un-American.
I’ve been teaching at the college level for 47 years and I have never considered the spiritual growth of my students to be my business. My grandfather was a Congregational minister and professor and my father a teacher and Unitarian minister. My grandfather was very much concerned with the spiritual growth of his students, but that’s because he held the Chair of Applied Christianity at Grinnell College. It’s much harder to justify the emphasis on the spiritual at a degree granting military entity. But bureaucracies such as the military are very slow to change. I suspect that for a long time the road to flag rank will still pass straight through golf courses, racquetball courts and base, post and station chapels.
Flying After 9/11
Like many of us who live here periodically, I usually travel to our mountains by automobile. Younger people would say by car, I suppose. Whatever. There’s another word I hear quite a bit from the young.
But last month I traveled to California by air, which is to say commercial aircraft, and as everyone knows who has chosen this means of transport since September 11th of 2001, it was something of a chore.
I was visiting my 97 year-old mother for no special reason other than my sense of fealty.
Of course I suffered the usual indignities of having my baggage, my computer and my person searched, but, like most of us, I have learned that the best way to pass through the dreaded Beeping Portal is to be stark naked, so I did my best, down to a T-shirt, shorts, pants and socks. Surely someone is going to figure a way to plant a bomb in socks. That will be a really disgusting time at check-in.
I have sort of been hoping that at some point I would be singled out for a cavity search, when I could exercise my rights as a card-carrying member of the ACLU to shout, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” But that didn’t happen. I was passed without a murmur. Very disappointing.
But on the return trip at the Ontario airport, where curbside check-in isn’t an option, I had to take my checked bag to a gentleman at a huge machine at the end of the ticketing area. The machine is a giant maw that swallows bags, which are put on a moving black tongue to be ingested. The gentleman looked at me, wearing my University of Colorado vest, emblazoned with my Air Force wings and a small replica of the Distinguished Flying Cross, and he said, “Is that the Distinguished Flying Cross?”
“Yes, it is,” I replied modestly. “I may have actually earned that.”
“Well,” he said, “I’d just like to thank you for your service.” So I thanked him and told him that it was mostly my pleasure and then he put my bag on the big black tongue to be scanned for bombs.
Every time I go through airport security I ask them how many terrorists they’ve caught as a result of these searches. The answer is always the same: none.
Do I feel safer? Not especially. I’m always afraid that some poor soul in a middle seat will crack under the strain and threaten to kill someone unless they get a better seat.
I’m a big believer in value for value. If we give up our civil rights we should get something really valuable in return. But I’m not at all sure that’s the case with commercial air travel. We have something like 300 million guns in this country. One 18 year-old who killed his girl’s parents recently had 54 guns in his house. So any person with a grudge against a union or who knew someone they didn’t like on a plane they or who just hated America could park at the end of a runway and use one of those millions of guns to do substantial damage to any one of the thousands of airliners, large or small, that routinely ply our skies every day. And what’s being done about that threat? Nothing at all, because it’s not personal. Being searched makes us feel as though we’re doing something patriotic. The politicians were counting on that.
Life is full of risks and none of us is going to get out of this alive. The huge and hugely expensive TSA search procedures don’t really protect us at all, but we do it because the D.C. politicians, none of whom have to suffer these indignities, believe that the unwashed masses will be mollified if they have to give up their civil rights and abrogate the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.
As a result, since 2001 we’ve caught exactly one would-be terrorist in connection with an airplane. And he was caught in the air, trying to set fire to his shoes.
Of course if you really like airport security you can give your kids a new toy this Christmas: a security checkpoint, complete with x-ray machine and two guns, made by Playmobil. I wouldn't kid you.
We don’t have many monuments in our part of the mountains. There’s the one about Enos Mills near the site of Longs Peak Inn, and there’s the plaque at Crystal Springs about Otto Walter. There a few grave and ashes markers.
We don’t commemorate much and maybe we should do more. Much of what our residents accomplish is remembered in the minds of the living and it gradually disappears. Of course this journal provides a record of some accomplishments, but nothing we can reach out and touch, that has a sense of permanence.
Most of us who have older cabins associate them with their builders. My home started out as a cabin built by Charlie Baker and his father and Joe Mann. That lore has been passed down and makes the building a sort of monument. Many of us can make that kind of connection. More modern homes, with many participants in construction, won’t have that kind of connection.
When I was stationed in Southeast Asia for a year in 1973 my wife and family lived in our cabin and Charlie Baker put on an addition. We decided that this was a good time to do something about the foundation. The cabin was built on wood pilings just sitting on the incredibly impervious rocky soil on our property. This left the distance from the main floor to the ground uncovered. Originally this space had been filled with wood slabs and 52 years later they looked somewhat forlorn. So we asked Mike Donahue to replace the slabs with stones from our property. We had plenty to spare.
When we asked how much this might cost, Mike said he charged by the foot, and he quoted a price. But Mary thought the footage was wrong and measured it herself. She came up with a slightly lower number. Mike didn’t argue, and in the end charged $250 for about 110 feet of facing that ranges from 3 inches to four feet in height.
It seems impossible, looking at it today, that it was done for that price. Done by a contractor today it would certainly cost several thousand dollars. And it is quite beautiful in its construction. The stones are of various sizes, but there is a sense of design rather than randomness and a sense that the builder was as much an artist as an artisan. Thirty-two years later it remains as solid as when it was built, and the moss and lichens that have grown on it only add to its beauty.
Of course Mike left behind many good things he built: his family, the Mountain School, his books and much more. I feel fortunate in having, under my house, something I can reach out and touch, that I can stop and admire, as I often do, and pass on to our heirs.
There are many such constructions in our mountains, each of them a monument to its builder.
© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner
Allenspark Wind Columns:
The Estes Park Trail-Gazette Columns: