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Recent Writings IV
Pikas are odd little creatures. They were voted the second cutest animal in North America in a recent World Wildlife Fund survey. When I was a kid climbing Longs I knew I was above timberline when I could hear the warning whistle of coneys, which is what we called them. Being young and ignorant, I didn’t know they were closely related to rabbits or that they didn’t hibernate. I should have been able to figure that out. They were always busy gathering vegetation. I didn’t know they were storing it for the winter. Their whistle was the first sign I had that I was getting somewhere.
Today, however, they’re endangered and not just endangered, but disappearing. Not because of hunters. Not because of predators. Not because disease or infertility. No, they’re in danger of extinction because of the mass of humanity that is overloading the planet and polluting the atmosphere. They can only live in cold climates and the earth is warming.
Here in our mountains we don’t worry too much about the polar bears and the shrinking ice-cap. But pikas can die in under an hour if temperatures reach much above 75 degrees.
So, with temperatures rising, the only way pikas have to go is up, chased by the steadily climbing warmer air that pollution and the resultant climate change is bringing -- and will continue to bring -- for at least the next 50 years.
When 75 degrees reaches the top of Longs, Rocky Mountain National Park’s pikas will be finished.
The really sad part of all this is that there may be nothing we can do about it. For the pikas it may be too late,
August brings us so much that is beautiful and hard to find, but abundant in our mountains and our valley. The heat of the day, the cool of the night, the afternoon rain and the morning dew, the peace of the mornings and evenings, the wind in the trees and the smell of the pines. We take these things for granted; our right as our reward for the life that led us here. But we’re not alone.
We share our mountains with creatures from ants to elk and while we don’t like all of them, the fact is that we’re stewards of their land as well as ours. We eliminated the grizzly and the wolf and we had to reintroduce the elk and the bighorn. Eagles are still rare, and marmots and beaver are in very short supply. Even weasels will be endangered if the pika becomes extinct.
There is still some discussion about climate change and whether global warming is happening and if so whether our species is responsible for it. Such discussions are always valuable. But for our fragile high altitude ecosystem, time is running out. Recent peer-reviewed scientific research conducted by the National Park Service has determined that the air pollution levels in the park are more than 60% higher than the ecosystem can sustain, resulting in direct injury to natural resources and the ecosystem.
One of the most damaging of those pollutants is excess nitrogen and there can be no doubt that it comes from vehicles, industrial emissions, agricultural sources such as farm fertilizer and animal waste and a very small amount from natural sources such as fire. Nitrogen oxide emissions come from transportation, industrial emissions and power plants. In 2002 those amounted to an estimated 201,000 tons along the Front Range. Total emissions of nitrogen oxide in Colorado increased by 8% from 1985 to 1999. California nitrogen oxide emissions decreased by 28% in the same period.
Finally, the lack of forest fires has created a forest vulnerable to insects and disease. We see the results all around us. The planet and ecosystem are fighting back. So far we’ve not done nearly enough to stabilize our environment or to take responsibility for our effect on it. The plight of the pikas and the loss of their whistle on the tundra is only one manifestation of a much bigger problem. The bugling of elk may be next.
People in our mountains tend to be an independent lot. We don’t like to be in debt. For many of us, it’s the reason we’re here rather than in Vail or Breckenridge or Steamboat. We don’t have that kind of money and we don’t need the traffic and the taxes and the hassle. We have enough to occupy us with Boulder County’s rules and regulations. And we tend to pay as we go. We don’t like big mortgages or owing money in general. And we don’t like taxes. I know people who dispute their taxes every year, no matter what they are. So I have a hard time understanding why these same people put up with a federal government that spends more than it takes in. According to the Federal Comptroller’s Office, America’s long term financial liability is 50.5 trillion dollars. Now, in case you’ve forgotten, a trillion is a million million. One trillion, and our long term debt is 50 of them. The current national debt is nine trillion. That’s nine million million dollars. The average U.S. household owes $440,000 toward that debt.
In past wars, there has been a war tax. Young men have been drafted and certain sacrifices by the civilian population in the form of taxes and rationing have been the norm. Not this time. This time the money has been borrowed, almost one million million dollars in wars against…whom? The dreaded Saddam Hussein is dead. We invaded Afghanistan to find Osama bin Laden, who is actually in Pakistan, “one of our best allies in the war on terror.” And our President vowed to “get Osama bin Laden dead or alive,” and said that anyone who harbored a terrorist was as guilty as the terrorist. Still, bin Laden lives in Pakistan and Pakistan is “one of our best allies in the war on terror.”
Our government has lowered taxes for the rich and the alternative minimum tax next year will affect 23 million members of the American middle class who can least afford a rise in taxes. The wars have brought the cost of oil to $100 per barrel. Make no mistake; the rattling of our sabres toward Iran is part of the rising cost of oil. Profits for oil companies have never been higher.
The Democrats have often been labeled as the “tax and spend” party. This administration, in order to avoid paying as it goes, is, as many have noted, the spend and borrow administration without peer in our history. A child born today will owe $170,000 toward our debt, whether the child works or not.
Those of us who live here and work here think of ourselves as proud of paying our bills. We expect to be paid for our work and we expect to pay for the things we purchase. But when we look around we see things we expect the government to take care of with our taxes: our forest and our fire protection, education, health care, inspection of food and imports, keeping our borders secure, our highways, dams and energy and we hear the same thing: “We don’t have the resources.” That’s bureaucratese for a lack of money because almost a trillion dollars of your money and mine has been wasted on two wars that have accomplished nothing but profits for the rich, a legacy of military dead and maimed and a huge debt for our children and grandchildren. We tolerate it because it hasn’t hurt us. But it will hurt our heirs and may very well result in a debt that can never be repaid.
And I hope you have a lovely holiday season.
The Seasons (2008)
From our limited perspective on Big Owl Road the cycle of the seasons is most marked by the sunset on December 21st, when the sun reaches its southern-most point on the south ridge of Mt. Meeker, half a mile south of Buggy Top, a formation almost nobody recognizes any more as the forest has obscured it over the years.
Many holy days center around the solstices which occur twice a year, whenever Earth's axis tilts the most toward or away from the Sun, causing the Sun to seem to be farthest north or south. Of course our winter solstice in the northern hemisphere is the summer solstice in the southern. In the north, Hanukka and Christmas almost certainly owe their origins to the lack of understanding about the 23 degree tilt of the axis of the earth and its travels around our star. Experience taught us that the sun’s march south would come to an end around what came to be known in the Western World as the 21st of December. And although the worst of winter was usually ahead, we could be assured that spring and summer would arrive in due course. It was cause for celebration. This past year it was a few minutes past six on the morning of December 22nd.
For a number of years our family lived where the solstices made little or no difference. We spent more than three years on Guam, near the equator, where the temperature was always between 75 and 92 degrees and only the typhoon season was in any way different in terms of climate. We spent several years in California, where the summers were hot, but it never snowed. Many of our readers arrange their lives to avoid cold and snow. They are called snowbirds.
There is, however, for many of us, a sense of assurance about the seasonal cycle and the passage of time marked by each of them. Each has a character, a set of requirements for preparation, a reason to enjoy its beauty. The New Year can be difficult, with short days and long, cold nights. But in its own way it provides us with the quiet one can find only in a place like ours. After the storm, when the wind dies and the clouds clear and the temperature drops, the silence and the pristine snow seem as though they could last forever.
We do love to talk about it; how deep is the snow, how much water it will provide for the spring flowers and summer streams. And there is plenty of time, when being outside is nearly impossible, to read, to look, to think. Many years ago in our valley the inhabitants might suffer from what they called Cabin Fever, simply by being stuck inside for days or weeks at a time. Today, with the Internet, television, telephones and four-wheel drive vehicles companionship is never far off and nobody has to suffer from Cabin Fever.
What is your favorite season in our mountains? For many of us it’s just this time of year. It’s the peace and quiet, the lack of pressure to do things, the opportunity to appreciate the grandeur of the mountains in their white cloaks without any outside interference. Each season has its special qualities; the rushing waters and flowers in spring, the warmth and long days of summer and turning aspen and bugling elk in autumn. We are fortunate indeed to experience the turning of the earth and our orbit around our star as they mark the passing years of our lives. Fortunate indeed.
When Edmund Hillary climbed Mt. Everest in 1953 I was in the process of climbing a number of our mountains in the Park. A few days later my brother and I tried and failed to reach the top of Mt. Meeker by way of the south ridge, turned back by snow and lightning. I had climbed the East Face of Longs two years before via Alexander’s Chimney. To learn that the world’s highest mountain had finally been conquered was a thrilling moment. I had grown up with the mystery of George Leigh-Mallory, who, along with Andrew Irvine, disappeared into the mists on Everest near the summit in 1924. His body was discovered in May of 1999, 2,000 feet below the summit. Irvine’s has not been found. Whether they got to the top is still a mystery. Mallory’s camera, which might answer the question, has never been found.
In September of 1963 I was at the University of Oregon and one of my classmates was Luther Jerstad, who had climbed Everest in May of that year, along with Barry Bishop as part of a National Geographic expedition headed by Norman Dyhrenfurth. They were the second and third Americans to climb Everest after Jim Whittaker and Lute was the first to shoot a film on the summit. Lute lost parts of fingers and toes to frostbite. Bishop lost all his toes. Lute finished his Ph.D. in 1966 in theatre, specializing in Asian theatre. But his reputation and his love of climbing led him to a career as a climbing, rafting and photography guide. He died of a heart attack in 1999 while leading a climb of Kalla Patthar in Nepal. He was 61. His signature on his picture in the book “Americans on Everest,” is among my prized possessions. Barry Bishop continued to work with the National Geographic until he retired in 1994. He died the same year in an automobile accident.
Willi Unsoeld and Tom Hornbein were the other members of the 1963 summit team. They reached the summit by way of the west ridge. Unsoeld died in an avalanche on Mt. Rainier in 1979. Dr. Tom Hornbein, 77, was Professor and Chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology and the University of Washington School of Medicine from 1978 to 1993. In 2006 he moved from the Seattle area to Estes Park.
Mt. Everest since 1953 has been climbed more than three thousand times and more than 200 people have died in the attempt. Sir Edmund climbed ten more Himalayan peaks but did not repeat Everest. He used his notoriety to help build many schools and hospitals for the Sherpa people who assisted him and who still assist the many climbers of Mt. Everest. He remained a modest man who still listed his occupation as “beekeeper,” and liked to be addressed as “Ed.” He was an aerial navigator in WW II for his native New Zealand, and it’s nice to have that in common as I was in the same occupation 13 years later in our own Air Force.
Extreme climbing is one of the most dangerous sports. My cousin, Richard Burdsall, died of a heart attack on 22,841 ft Aconcagua in 1953. He climbed one the highest Himalayan mountains, Minya Konka, in 1933, a first ascent.
Many of us who read this journal have known climbers who have died or been badly injured, some of them on our own mountains. But many of us have done more than simply admire the view. It’s hard for anyone to resist the lure of hiking our trails and climbing our peaks. The sense of accomplishment, whether at 28,000 or only half that height, is hard to beat. My brother made a second ascent of Upper Stettner’s Ledges on Longs’ east face and it’s something he’ll never forget. Sir Edmund’s death reminds us that what we are is temporary, but what we do can live long after us.
I'm not against gun ownership. I own four guns: two rifles, one handgun, one shotgun, all of small caliber. We have plenty of guns in our valley. Some, like most of mine, are useful in dealing with unwanted critters. Many of us hunt deer and elk and have bigger guns.
Colorado has had more than its share of publicity concerning guns. Most recently a young man attacked two religious organizations with a semi-automatic assault rifle and two large caliber handguns, killing four and wounding several others. The Second Amendment to the Constitution says “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” This young man wasn't a member of a well regulated Militia. Or poorly regulated, for that matter.
In fact the only militias recognized by the Federal Government are the National Guard and the Naval Militias, both regulated by states. California is one of six states having a Naval Militia. Unlike New York and the few other states with ship-borne active naval militia units, the California Naval Militia is a small unit of military lawyers and strategists who provide advice and legal expertise in the field of military and naval matters for the benefit of California's state defense force. I have no idea whether their regulation involves drill and practice with weapons, but I doubt it. Colorado does not have a Naval Militia.
When challenged, those who defend the directive that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed will spend some time and effort dealing with that “well regulated militia” requirement. They will say we're all, between the ages of 17 and 45, part of the militia. Perhaps. But are we “well regulated?” Apparently not, as we continue to have young men with assault rifles, hand guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition killing people in homes, schools, and churches.
If we are to be a part of a well regulated militia, why not have a few regulations when it comes to the ownership of arms? Just for example, there was a ban on the ownership of assault rifles. It expired in 2004 and Congress has not seen fit to renew it. One of the weapons used in Denver and Colorado Springs was a Bushmaster XM-15, also known as an AR-15, a civilian version of a military design, the M-15. The AR does not stand for Assault Rifle, but for the ArmaLite Corporation that designed it. It's the same weapon used by the sniper on the east coast a few years ago.
As usual after such an incident we see the usual spate of letters to the editor about gun control, both pro and con. Those in favor of some control have a very tough row to hoe, simply because there has been very little regulation. It's probable that about 150 million Americans own 250 million guns, but nobody really has any idea. The sheer numbers make it almost impossible, particularly in a free society, to find out who has them and how many there are. The framers of the Bill of Rights could not possibly have imagined either the number of people or the number of arms that would exist in our country 200 years later. They could not have envisioned the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Reserves and National Guard that made a “well regulated militia” obsolete. Our problems with arms are really not their fault.
It will take something much more severe than the killing of four people to bring about any change in our control of arms. I would have no qualms about registering my weapons with the government, but I know people who would rather die than do so. NRA members swear that their guns will be pried from their cold, dead hands. Gun control is one of our most polarizing issues. Almost no one is indifferent about it. Every time someone deranged sets out to kill people we have the same arguments and in the end nothing is changed. So far, the right of the people to keep and bear arms is not in danger of infringement.
In the late 60s and early 70s I had to go to survival schools run by the Air Force. Basic Survival was at Fairchild Air Force Base, near Spokane, Washington, Sea Survival was at Homestead Air Force Base in Florida, and Jungle Survival was in the jungle near Clark Air Base in the Philippines.
These schools, which still exist, some of them in different locations, are difficult for those who attend, and expensive to operate. The basic survival course I attended hasn’t changed much. It still takes 17 days. Instruction at Fairchild begins with classroom training on the physical and psychological stresses of survival. According to Fairchild’s web site, this is followed by “hands-on training in post ejection procedures and parachute landing falls, various life supports of equipment procedures, survival medicine, and recovery device training. Students then transition to the mountains where they receive additional training including shelter construction, food procurement and preparation, day and night land navigation techniques, evasion travel and camouflage techniques, ground-to-air signals, and aircraft vectoring procedures. Finally, students are returned to Fairchild and given training in conduct after capture.”
The mountain stuff was fun but the conduct after capture part was no fun at all. Fortunately, it was brief. We were stripped to our underwear, put into a tiny cell, hooded and forced to march holding on to the person in front of us, crammed into a three-foot by four-foot box for an hour, deprived of sleep, heat, food and water in a simulated prison camp overnight and subjected to mock executions which weren’t so bad because we knew they were mock. We got the whole Name, Rank, Serial Number treatment in mock interrogations. They tried to prepare us for capture based then current POW treatment. What they didn’t know at the time was that our men in North Vietnam prisons were being treated far worse and in many cases, tortured.
Today some of those things are forbidden, such as hooding and withholding of food or water. We were not subjected to simulated drowning, known as waterboarding primarily because it doesn’t sound as evil as simulated drowning. But that’s what it is and President Bush thinks the CIA should be allowed to use it, as well as other, unspecified “coercive interrogation techniques.” They’re unspecified because they are what most people would consider torture. President Bush says “we don’t torture,” but we do allow the CIA to use “unspecified coercive interrogation techniques.”
He claims that these techniques “have helped foil terrorist plots.” I say, “Prove it.” Someone subjected to simulated drowning or other torture will say almost anything the interrogator desires, confess to any plot, real or imagined. As a result, torture is not just inhumane, it’s also useless. In the past many combatants have been careful about the use of torture. Once used, it becomes fair game for all involved. The United States has been able to say in the past, “We don’t torture our prisoners, so don’t torture yours.”
In Vietnam the torture lines became blurred and the result was substantial damage to our men who were captured. They were damaged because we weren’t careful about how the South Vietnamese treated captured North Vietnamese. They mistreated and tortured them so our captured men were mistreated and tortured. This is how it has worked for centuries. World War I was among the most civilized when it came to prisoners. World War II was among the worst, where millions of prisoners were tortured and killed.
Forty-three retired generals and admirals and 18 national security experts including former secretaries of state and national security advisors supported a bill that would prevent the CIA from using simulated drowning and those other coercive interrogation techniques, but President Bush vetoed it and the veto was not overturned by a sycophantic Congress. His lack of experience, his lack of understanding of war and its consequences faces our young men and women, should they be captured, with inhumane treatment, including simulated drowning. I just hope it doesn’t happen before January 20th, 2009.
Why is War So Popular?
Why must everything be a war? We have wars on drugs, terror, the middle class, poverty, corruption, science, just to name a few. We even have a war on Christmas. Of course real war involves a real and substantial loss of life. The United States has been involved in eight foreign wars that have killed a little more than one million Americans and wounded another million and a half.
Real war involves a specific enemy one can force to surrender or one may surrender to, depending. That’s what we had in the first Iraq war. It’s possible to have a war on drug users or on drug providers, but not on drugs. Terror is a method, not a person or persons. The middle class is a vague term at best. Corruption is simply a description of a lack of ethics and science is not a person or group of persons but a noun describing the systematic study of the physical world.
Still, it’s become fashionable to depict many endeavors, both positive and negative, as wars. Many of these have been going on for years without much progress. President Johnson declared war on poverty 40 years ago. Poverty is still with us. We spend 20 billion dollars a year in an unsuccessful war on drugs.
Real war has been with our species for a very long time. Peace has been rare. Even the famous Pax Romana lasted just 207 years.
In 1970, during the protests about the war in Vietnam Edwin Starr recorded a protest song, “War,” the chorus of which begins, “War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!”
But Starr was not the first American in recent times to make that observation. In 1936 Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had toured the battlefields of France during World War I said, “I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.” It's fair to say that in spite of this he gave his own life in World War II.
On Armistice Day in 1948 General Omar Bradley, one of the principal architects of Allied victory in Europe in World War II said, “We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount… Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.”
In 1951 General Douglas MacArthur said, “I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting. I have long advocated its complete abolition, as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a method of settling international disputes.”
And Dwight Eisenhower in 1953 said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”
Why then is war so popular? Perhaps we can get a clue from the Nazi Hermann Göering who said at the 1946 Nuremberg trials, “Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”
Apparently it still does.
Sometimes I read of deaths in the Wind and I'm not even aware that the person lived here. I'm always surprised by that and not a little chagrined; we're really such a small community and we should have many things in common. We should know more about our friends and neighbors, and it's one of the things the Wind tries to do.
On the other hand, because we're a “rural enclave,” I probably shouldn't be surprised. And I wasn't surprised by Jack Zumwinkel's death, as his health had been failing for a while.
But I thought I knew Jack and that we had many things in common. We were both in the military, we were both Unitarians, we were both teachers, we were both present at the creation of the Wind. We both grew up loving the land of our mountains, Tahosa Valley and Cabin Creek and Roaring Fork. But more than that, we were neighbors, and very good neighbors.
I'm sure that elsewhere you will read about Jack's almost single-handed effort to keep the Wind alive until a new generation could sustain it and give it new life, a life that endures.
In the 1970s and into the 80s, Jack knew everything there was about cutting and pasting typing onto waxed boards in order get them printed. It was labor intensive, very difficult to do well and rarely got the praise it so richly deserved. But he kept at it. That was typical of Jack. When we began to explore the uses of computers Jack was enthusiastic. He got a computer and for a short time he would call me and I would go to his house and give him some help with this new way of doing things.
Sometimes it seemed as though Jack was a typical old-timer who was into the old ways. Several of his pieces in the Wind were about his early days in the valley and how things were done way back when. But in fact he had no hesitation about embracing new technology. He was impatient with his lack of mastery of his computer and he worked hard to learn how it worked. His calls for help soon ended.
When the Wind first acquired software that would help us put the journal together there were some who doubted that this was the way of the future. Jack quickly recognized that this way was easier, faster and in every way better than the old way. He had an appreciation for both the old and the new, and that was reflected in the many pieces he wrote for the Wind.
Most of all, though, Jack was my neighbor and my friend. When I was at his house and he saw me to the door, he would have a look at the forest and just inhale its presence and enjoy it. We enjoyed it together. He laughed at the bears invading his porch, as bears just being bears. He always seemed to extract the very most out of living in this beautiful place. It was a good, long life, full of friends and family and people who were just happy to know him.
We have only a few people who will be remembered in our valley long after they're gone. Jack is one of them, I still miss him, and I never even knew his first name was John.
The Price of Gasoline
What made our mountains so accessible? Give up? It was oil, of course. Gasoline and the internal combustion engine. What used to take a full day by horse and wagon up the canyon now takes half an hour or so, depending on the season.
As I write this in June of 2008 the price of a gallon of gas in Estes Park is $4.34. People are parking their SUVs and buying a Prius or Focus or Kia. Letters to the editor in the Longmont paper damn the environmentalists for blocking the drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But as a sole source, all the oil in ANWR would last us somewhere between seven months and two years. And it would take about ten years to get the first of it to consumers.
In a recent op-ed piece Marilyn Musgrave, Representative for the 4th Colorado district, produced her list of ways to reduce gasoline prices: 1) greater domestic oil exploration, 2) regulatory relief to
increase refining capacity and 3) more investment in alternative fuel technology. The first two are really gifts for oil companies, and the priorities are exactly backwards. She is not alone. Many citizens and lawmakers have the same priorities, but they just don’t get it.
Oil is a finite resource. When the last barrel comes out of the ground, whether in the Middle East, Alaska or from under the ocean, that will be it; petroleum will be a thing of the past. The laws of supply and demand are inexorable. There will be no more discoveries of oil that will bring the price down. The price is going to go up and up until the last barrel, or until alternate sources of energy are found and harnessed and used to propel all the rolling, floating and flying machines that create a global economy.
For a number of years we’ve had people who live in our valley and commute to jobs in Lyons, Longmont or Boulder. That practice is in real jeopardy as the price of commuting escalates far faster than wages.
I have a Dodge van with a wheelchair lift and the gasoline cost to drive it one mile is about 25¢. So it costs about $18 to drive to Denver. I suspect I’m going to look back on that figure as the good old days. Around here I drive a 22 year-old Toyota 4WD wagon that gets 33 miles per gallon, about 13¢ a mile. Like everyone else, I’m having trouble facing the fact that these costs, with these vehicles, are never going to go down. Those of us who live on fixed incomes are going to have a very hard time dealing with the cost of driving up here.
Will a solution be found? Of course it will, necessity being the mother of invention. What is so troubling is that it has taken us so long to recognize the necessity. The part of the industrial revolution involving oil is coming to an end. Unless we want to go back to family farming with a horse and plow a solution must be found and I’m confident it will be. But there will be a lot of pain and suffering before a true substitute for oil is found.
Those of us in our valley who depend on tourists are going to find more and more Americans with less and less disposable income. Real estate agents, restaurants, builders, even livery stables will have to compete with the need to fill the tank. Property and other taxes are bound to rise, as the cost of building and maintaining our roads, fueling the school busses, police cars and fire engines and all manner of public vehicles continues to rise. Propane, already more than $2 a gallon, is sure to keep pace with gasoline. What will we do when propane costs $5 a gallon, as it’s sure to do?
Strange, isn’t it, that the very thing that made our mountains accessible appears set to make them inaccessible for many of us?
Most of the time we don’t think very much about how fortunate we are to have so much beautiful flora in our mountains. From the first appearance of pasque flowers and columbines to the turning of the aspens, we take for granted the lush vegetation to which we’re so accustomed. Lately, however, our pine trees have been very much on our minds as we watch the progress of the beetles on the western slope and look for signs of infestation in our own trees. Shortly after I had cut down twenty trees around my house I discovered another one that turned brown almost literally overnight.
This past summer was expensive because of beetle trees. If the infestation reaches the level of that in the Grand Lake area I will be in real trouble, as I would not be able to afford disposing of the more than 1,500 Lodgepole and Ponderosa trees on my property.
Allenspark folks and the Forest Service have been active in trying to defeat the beetles and destroy them before they fly in July and August. It’s a valiant effort, but whether it will make a difference is questionable. One hundred years of unimpeded forest growth along with warm winters that don’t kill beetles have resulted in nature finding a way to keep the ecosystem in balance. Even if we defeat the beetles it may be inevitable that the forest will be thinned, if not by us then by one plague or another.
It’s a painful fact that we have not been good stewards of our ecosystem. The forest floor in our valley is covered with the pine needles and dead leaves of a hundred years, a suffocating layer of detritus and effluvia that inhibits the growth of small plants and in time of drought is simply kindling. Our interference with the natural cycle of fire and regrowth has produced an overgrown, crowded and toxic forest that will be rebalanced one way or another. “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature” has always been true. That will be demonstrated once again as our forest and its surrounding and supporting ecosystem achieves the equilibrium it must have in order to survive.
For those of us who are involved in that process now and for those who come soon after us, it’s going to be, whether brief or long, painful to watch. It’s a bitter lesson and one we brought on ourselves. Let’s hope future generations will have learned from our errors and will take the necessary steps to live in better harmony with the flora and fauna of our mountains.
We don’t think much about racial discrimination in our mountains. The vastly predominant color, even without snow, is white. But as a result of the presidential campaigns, many of us have had to think about discrimination for the first time in a while. It’s certainly true that some portion of the electorate didn’t vote for Senator Obama simply because he’s half African.
The election reminds me that in 1958 I was an Air Force second lieutenant who had grown up in Oregon and had gone to college in Iowa where many of my friends were African-American. Negroes, as they were known then. Perhaps my closest friend at Lincoln High in Portland was Leodis McDaniel, who later became a counselor at the youth correctional facility in Woodburn, Oregon. I never thought of Leodis as a negro. To me he was just a skinny kid with a beautiful first-tenor voice. Together we sang in the boys octet of the choir for civic groups; barbershop stuff and spirituals. We had a good time at reunions until he died several years ago. I still miss him.
In 1958 I found myself in Harlingen, Texas, just north of Brownsville and the Mexican border. I was a flight student at Harlingen Air Force Base, where later I would be an instructor and would meet my wife, also a lieutenant, who was a nurse at the base hospital.
Shortly after I entered the school I went out to dinner in downtown Harlingen with a fellow student who happened to be an African-American. I pulled into the parking lot of a restaurant where I’d eaten several times. But before I could get out of the car he looked at me and said, “I can’t go in there.” “Why?” I said.” “Because they won’t serve me.”
I was stunned. Such things didn’t happen in Portland, or anywhere else, as far as I knew. I had read about it but never thought I would encounter it. How naïve I was. “Well, where can you eat?” “Right over there,” he said, looking past me and past the railroad tracks to a restaurant about a block away. So I pulled out and drove the block and we had a good dinner at a tiny cafe filled with African-Americans. They paid no attention to the fact that I was white. True, they looked at me momentarily when I walked in, but they accepted that I was with someone who belonged there and so, as a result, did I. “How strange,” I thought, “that he can’t eat over there, but I can eat here.” “Why,” I thought, “should it be so different just a block away?”
It was my first personal experience with racial discrimination but certainly not my last. I encountered various forms of it around the world and even within the Air Force. Seventeen years later, in 1975, at an Air Force school in Alabama I found, to my surprise, vestiges of it remaining. Although there were no white and colored rest rooms, it was clear that some areas, including some places of business, practiced de facto discrimination. I saw the signs “We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to Anyone.” Everyone in Montgomery knew what that meant.
It’s encouraging to note that racial discrimination, according to the research, now exists primarily in Americans over the age of 65. In 1968 73% of adults nationwide disapproved of marriage between whites and non-whites. Today it’s less than 10%. Old prejudices in America die hard, but apparently they do die. African-Americans have been able to eat anywhere in Harlingen for many years. Certainly we have come a long way from our founding, when “all men are created equal” didn’t include slaves, who weren’t men, but property. The election of Senator Obama is probably not the last nail in the coffin of racial bigotry in America, but it has certainly put the lid on it.
Troy Waller (2009)
“A man killed in a single vehicle accident in Boulder County has been identified as Troy M. Waller, 27, of Lyons. Waller's car was discovered on its top in a ditch about 7:44 a.m. Wednesday with Waller still in the car…[A]n investigation found the Honda lost control and rotated counter-clockwise across the eastbound lane for 232 feet before the right wheels collided with a raised curb. The car continued to rotate as it left the roadway before crashing into some trees… Waller was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident, according to investigators…Waller was pronounced dead at the scene.” Denver Post, 30 Oct 2008.
On November 5th I went to Troy’s funeral in Longmont. It was a typically dreary, overcast November day. The ceremony was multi-media, with pictures of Troy from childhood to manhood shown on two big screens on either side of the church stage, with music provided by a gentleman on the stage playing a concert grand piano. There was a eulogy from the minister, mostly about Jesus, God and heaven, and reminiscences by his childhood best friend. There were perhaps a hundred and fifty people there, and the casket was on the floor below the stage. We sang The Old Rugged Cross, the lyrics on the big screens. Troy’s friends and relatives were pallbearers. A motorcycle escort waited to take the body to the cemetery.
Here at the WIND we pride ourselves on chronicling the life and times of our mountains, and that often includes the mention of the death of residents, summer and winter, as life goes on until it doesn’t. Sometimes we miss people, particularly young people, who have contributed, however briefly, to our mountains and who are suddenly gone. Troy was such a person. He worked at Meeker Park Lodge for almost ten years in the summer. Indeed, he was still working for the Devers, doing maintenance work, when he died.
He was instantly recognizable because he had fiery red hair. And he was a good person. I expected him to live a long time, to marry and have red-headed children and tell everyone what a swell guy I was after I’m dead. It didn’t work out that way.
All too often we forget how precious life is, how transient, how tenuous. The whole of a lifetime, whether 27 or 100, is reduced to a few lines in a newspaper and an hour or two spent in a church or a home, tomorrow perhaps a similar funeral in the even more ephemeral realm of cyberspace.
We live in a time when it’s considered a tragedy to outlive one’s children, Yet that circumstance was the norm for our species up until a few years ago, as children often died in childbirth or as infants when we did not know what caused diseases. Our knowledge of bacteria and viruses has changed all that. Today Troy is thought still a very young man, with a long, happy and healthy future in front of him. It didn’t work out that way. He was, however, fortunate to be alive, to have known and been known and touched many other lives.
We are the sum of all those we’ve known, young and old, and our own lives are reflections of all we have known. Those of us who knew Troy will carry some of him with us until we die.
The WIND celebrates the life and times of our mountains, and that includes our deaths, young or old. It sometimes pays too much attention to things that in retrospect seem insignificant, and it has sometimes paid more attention to the past than the present, but it has done very well in paying its respects to those who have contributed to Allenspark. Every life in our valley, young or old, deserves it.
The Future of Water
For several years I’ve written about water and it always bores our readers. We have plenty of water, unless the well needs fracturing or the Devers haven’t turned it on yet or there’s trouble with Crystal Spring or a problem with one of the Allenspark water systems. Not very many of us have seen first hand large portions of the 97% of the earth’s water that isn’t drinkable by our species. If you do, it will make you think about fresh water. Most of us just take fresh water for granted. But there is going to come a time, and that much sooner than we think, when fresh water will be a more precious commodity than gasoline. Seventy-seven percent of all the fresh water is in the form of ice and 22% is groundwater and soil moisture. Only 1% is in lakes, rivers and wetlands. One percent to keep more than 6.7 billion of us alive.
We have apparently forgotten that fresh water is what distinguishes our planet from all the others in our solar system. Without heat from a star and oceans that provide fresh water through the water cycle our planet would be as devoid of life as Mars, as inhospitable as Venus. Much of our thinking has been based on the notion that mankind is unique, but it is our planet that is uniquely adapted to life in our solar system. If our species is to survive it will have to come to terms with that one percent.
Already a third of the world’s population lives in countries with moderate to high water stress and as usual in such matters the greatest stress is on the poor. Those of us who’ve been here a while are aware that every year there’s less fresh water in our mountains. When I was young the spot on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain now called Lava Cliffs was a beautiful little lake: Iceberg Lake. It disappeared more than 30 years ago. All that’s left is the parking area and a new name that makes little sense. Many of RMNP’s lakes are shallow and as the climate continues to change it’s likely that many more will disappear.
We’re fortunate that we still have enough fresh water. We’re still in that two-thirds that isn’t stressed. But we can’t help but be aware that the area to the east of us is growing. According to the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, by 2030 another 2.4 million people will live along the Front Range. Much of the water in our mountains is affected by water rights that go back almost 150 years, almost all of them east of our valley. In those days the only residents of our valley were native Americans and then only in the summer. The water rights in our valley were nearly all purchased. If my grandfather had been told he should try to secure water rights to his property in 1918, when he was able to run the water fountain in front of his cabin day and night using only gravity, he would have considered the idea absurd. And he couldn’t have done it even then. A dipper hung on a peg at the brook-house in the middle of Roaring Fork and the ice-cold water from Chasm Lake was safe to drink. It is safe no longer. We have polluted the water and the air and much of our land because we took things for granted, including our water, assumed they were never going to change and looked around for someone to blame when they changed for the worse. To find who is responsible we need only find a still mountain pool and look down.
As time goes on I become more and more aware that fewer and fewer of us are left who remember the days when the WIND was young. Recently, however, I feel a resurgence of the zeitgeist of that period. The emphasis on community, the number of meetings and offerings of raw foods classes, potlucks, yoga, art classes, food coop, meditation, alternative health, even a theatre project, all are reminiscent of the late sixties and early seventies, when the air of Allenspark smelled of incense and marijuana, and local fashion ran to long hair and anti-war patches on ragged second-hand clothing.
Such a cycle would not be new to the area. In the early part of the 20th century the early settlers were a similar group of people who were looking for something other than the lives lived by people in the flatlands. Non-conformists, independent, disaffected, they wanted something different, even if it came at the price of semi-poverty, extreme discomfort and an uncertain future.
The First World War’s end brought to our valley a new group, involved in the arts and crafts movement, in search of a mountain idyll. The intrusion into lives of electricity, the telephone, indoor plumbing and radio fostered a back-to-nature reaction resulting in dozens of summer cabins with kerosene lamps, outhouses, isolation, hiking, bird watching and communing with Nature. In the fall, of course, it was back to Des Moines, Omaha, Kansas City, Dallas or Chicago, electric lights, the washing machine and bathroom.
That pattern was a bridge between the two world wars, unchanging for more than twenty years. But the Second World War changed all that. Veterans of Europe and the Pacific and the various deprivations of wartime sought a new life in the mountains of Colorado. Some established skiing areas and turned forests into playgrounds for those who made good livings from war and its aftermath. Other veterans, like our Otto Walter, came to the mountains to make a living from the skills learned in the military and who wanted to get as far away from the military as possible, physically and emotionally. Korea and Vietnam brought war, if not in actuality then in consciousness, to a new cycle of veterans and the disaffected who sought refuge in the peace and isolation of our mountains.
Today we are once again involved in wars and they have lasted more than six years. They have had less effect on us in our valley than past wars. No great sacrifices have been required and there have been relatively few dead and wounded, none at all among our residents. Lately, however, we have more newcomers, and we’re beginning to see the results of the wars and a bubble economy based on Ponzi real estate schemes as well as the failure to adequately care about our future on the planet. The result is a community attitude very like that of the seventies, with many of the same projects and behaviors. All we lack are macramé, home birthing and cleansing enemas. We may yet get around to those.
The only real question is whether we have learned anything in the interim. Whether the renewed emphasis on community and the several blasts from the past will have lasting results is unknown. Part of the joy of living here is watching the cycles unfold and, filled with hope, looking for evidence that the future will somehow be better than the past.
Past, Present and Future WIND
On February 28th The Rocky Mountain News became another casualty of the recession, the Internet and television. According to a recent Zogby poll about 40% get their news from Internet sites, about 32% from television and newspapers were a distant third with 12%. Radio, magazines and blogs accounted for the other 16%. A Pew Research Center poll last December got a somewhat different result: the same 40% for the Internet but 35% said newspapers. And it's not clear how much news is read on sites connected to newspapers. One thing is clear: most young people watch television or get their news online.
Our little journal hardly qualifies as a newspaper, and it reaches only about 700 addresses every month, perhaps a thousand people. Still, the possible future of the WIND in the face of the collapse of big newspapers has certainly crossed my mind and perhaps yours as well.
Small town newspapers are certainly far less likely to fold than those in cities like Denver and Philadelphia. Local news in those places is available from the Internet and local television. Smaller towns have no such sources. Indeed it was that very lack of sources that was the impetus for the founding of the WIND thirty-five years ago. Things were happening in the Allenspark area and there was no way to inform the residents about water, fire, school or business issues. It became apparent that a monthly journal could do all that as well as provide a way for local businesses to inform residents of the skills and availability. Their advertising made the WIND an enduring presence and allowed the subscription price to start and remain what some of us think is insanely low. But as a non-profit organization we need to make money only sufficient to pay for printing, mailing and the computer power to put it together. Thanks to sound business management by Betty Ann Newton and the continued support of our advertisers, the WIND is on very sound fiscal footing.
It's unlikely that our little journal of the life and times of the area will be replaced by the media from which most people get their news. Although it's only a few miles away, the Estes Park papers have always mostly ignored Allenspark. The WIND provides news we can't find anywhere else. About 160 copies of the WIND are sent to local subscribers every month. More than 500 are sent to subscribers all over the country and as far away as Japan. For those people the news from a place they obviously care about is in the only available source other than the telephone. News of the Area Club, the Hilltop Guild, fire department, water and other matters of local concern are well covered. Only rarely have we had a complaint that some local happening or issue has been overlooked thanks to our extraordinary editors over the years.
Recently, with the interest in a workable community building, the WIND has again become an important part of the process as it informs us of projects, meetings, fund raising and the progress of the initiative. Those currently involved bring their ideas to our pages. Some of our contributors, reflecting on similar past experiences such as the fire station, bring the perspective of history that may prove useful.
Anyone certain about the future is almost always wrong. But it's probably safe to say that the WIND fills a need in our community, a need that cannot be filled by any other entity at the moment. There may come a day when the WIND will be published online rather than on paper. Or it may survive for many years as it is. Or events could bring about its demise. There are many possibilities, but most of them look very favorable for the future of what some thought at the time was founder Emily Hesse's crazy idea. A non-profit volunteer monthly journal in an unincorporated village of fewer than 300 souls? And yet, thirty-five years later, here it is.
1991 I became a grandfather for the first time. And in due course there were twins in 1997. I had accepted the idea that this experience was behind me, So it was a surprise when I found it would happen again this March. Elliot Thomas Steiner came into the world on the 10th.
It’s hard for me to realize that the gentleman responsible for Elliot’s share of our little property on Big Owl Road was his great, great grandfather and that he’s in the fifth generation of Steiners to put their feet on that land.
I’m always somewhat saddened by the lack of written history available. What stories John McAllister could have told, and so many others who might have left for their children and us their experiences in this beautiful place. Crete Dever wrote something and Keith has been working on a new version we can look forward to. [It was published shortly before his death and is available at Meeker Park Lodge] Otto Walter knew everyone and did everything and we have almost nothing of his presence except a plaque at Crystal Spring. What a shame. We have had postmasters, firefighters, various board members and other prominent members of the community who have left almost no record of their many contributions.
More than 20 years ago I wrote a brief history of our family’s time on our property. I thought it was important to do it while the names and dates were still reasonably fresh and verifiable. I’m glad I did. A copy has been preserved at the Estes Park Museum and the original has bored countless visitors to our property. But I expect Elliot will eventually read it and I hope he won’t be bored and that he or one of the other grandchildren will keep it up to date. These days, when one only has to add to a file on a computer, it’s easy.
The WIND has always been, from its beginning, a depository for organization, family and individual histories. You will find several such instances in this issue and in every issue. Our readers’ appreciation for reading about those histories fills the many letters we receive. Many of our readers have kept many issues of the WIND, simply because it is our history and I have been pleased to sometimes add to it.
I hope you will consider doing some writing about yourself or your family’s history in the area, or if you have already done so that you will bring it up to date. At the WIND we are happy to be able to publish area family histories.
For the past few years I’ve sought to broaden my writing experience by applying to be one of the sixteen Colorado Voices selected by the Denver Post every year. The 500 or so applicants submit two 650 word columns. Every year I’ve carefully selected two WIND columns I thought were pretty good. And every year I’ve not been selected. This year I was in a hurry so I just submitted my January and February columns. It was a very pleasant surprise to learn I had been selected.
Summer brings many of us back to our mountains from near and far. Some of us arrange for someone to open our cabins. Many of us do it ourselves. Years ago almost everyone did it themselves, but things are more complicated today, with indoor plumbing and electricity. We always wondered, as we opened the door, what we might find. Anything broken? Any evidence of rodents? How’s the water? Any pipes frozen?
There were chimney caps to be removed, plenty of dusting, window washing, bed making, knick-knacks to set in proper places, seeing to the refrigerator, screens to fix, humming bird feeders to fill, bathrooms to clean and a hundred more little tasks to bring the cabin back to life. We let our neighbors know we had arrived. We needed our neighbors.
Many of us arrive with projects in mind, big and small. Building a patio, painting trim, drilling a well, dealing with trees, cutting, pruning, planting flowers, perhaps a new roof is in order this year. My grandfather had to revive his gravity water system, replacing pipes that had frozen. And he had a large number of screens on the big porch that had to be repaired, wood to be cut for the fireplace. Without electricity, he had to make sure his brook house, a little house that sat in the middle of the stream with shelves to keep meat and dairy cool was usable after a winter locked in snow and ice. There were kerosene lamps to be filled and new wicks and mantles to be installed. Today the really ambitious plant vegetables. This summer my big project is putting in a new floor in the living room. I’m not going to do it myself. I keep telling myself that this year I’m not going to have a project, but with a 90 year old house it always needs something.
Puttering around the place is just part of every summer. We always think we’re going to just read, barbecue, ride horses or go hiking, but there’s always something that needs to be done.
The many teachers and ministers who had places along Big Owl Road had the luxury of time, several summer weeks to enjoy their cabins. With no television and radio reception hampered by the Twin Sisters, residents explored the forest, read, played horseshoes or badminton, built or repaired. They met at church, or at dances. They took full advantage of the tiny library in Bond Park in Estes Park, but mostly during the day; kerosene lamps made reading difficult. They had popcorn, prepared in a popper stuck into the fireplace. And they talked. The Great War, the flu and polio epidemics, both of which bypassed the valley, along with the heat, were all good reasons to spend the summer here rather than in Iowa, Nebraska or Kansas.
Today we often don’t know neighbors close enough to see every day. We nod, we wave, but we don’t know them. In those days residents spent evening together conversing or playing cribbage. My parents knew and visited often with neighbors as far away as Wild Basin. Just as today, they cultivated work relationships with year around locals who provided caretaking, ice, wood, and building skills. Without telephones the isolation was nearly complete. If one wanted ice, one had to drive to the Sutherland place and hope they would be there to provide a block of Copeland ice at a penny a pound. Invitations to dinner or an evening of cards were given face to face. Bad news arrived by telegram. When party-line telephones became available, middle of the night bad news was shared with at least four families immediately.
Oddly, our isolation is greater now than in the old days, as we watch television, read late into the night, talk with far away friends on the telephone, get and send e-mail, spend a day in stores in Boulder, Longmont or Denver. We no longer need our neighbors when we have the world at our beck and call.
We’ve heard quite a bit recently about transparency and lies. Transparency is a political codeword for truth. Lies? Well, transparency is good and lies are bad, unless the national security is a stake. In that case it’s okay to be misleading, opaque, to distort, to confabulate, misrepresent, provide a cover story, dissemble, fabricate, prevaricate, but not lie.
We’ve heard the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ms. Pelosi say that she was lied to by the CIA and the head of the CIA has responded that the CIA does not lie to Congress and to so assert is a lie.
Readers of this column may remember that I have some experience with intelligence gathering, as I worked for the National Security Agency in the 1970s, gathering signals intelligence in Southeast Asia. I also worked for an Air Force unit at Udorn Royal Thai Airbase attempting to make rain in Laos on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in 1971. It was a scheme devised by supposedly very bright Pentagon strategists who forgot that it rains on the just and unjust alike. They knew weather modification as a weapon was at least immoral and probably illegal. That’s why the project called Steel Tiger was known only to those with a Top Secret Special Category clearance. That’s the clearance a project gets when it’s going to be given a cover story in order to mislead anyone who inquires.
I didn’t work for the CIA, but when our colonel commander retired he was next seen as Mr. Smith, flying a Beech Baron with the same mission out of Udorn for the CIA. When our mission, call sign “Motorpool” was uncovered by a journalist our mission was canceled but the CIA continued to fly, call sign “Gory Lance.” The publicity about this mission resulted in a Geneva Convention forbidding it, signed by President Carter in 1977. Many young ex-Air Force CIA pilots, flying strange versions of T-28s, an elderly pilot training plane, or Pilatus Porters, a Swiss short take-off and landing plane, on very secret missions, were well known by all of us who flew out of Udorn in the late 60s and early 70s. The CIA’s Air America airline became so well known that a movie was made with that title and the CIA had to come up with a new name. I don’t know what its name is today, but I can almost guarantee it’s still flying.
People forget that the job of intelligence agencies is, fundamentally, to lie. Along with gathering information, their job is to lie about how much information they’ve gathered, what it is and what it means. We know the CIA employs mercenaries. People are apparently surprised, stunned, that the CIA might have lied to Nancy Pelosi about what it does. Even the most naïve legislator has to know, after their first week in Washington, that lies are more common, by about 100 to 1, than the smallest grain of truth.
During the Vietnam War I was in a combat crew briefing where a log over a stream was called a bridge and a box of cookies was referred to as “captured supplies. We laughed, but it really wasn’t funny. It was just another example of how willing people were to lie to justify that expensive misuse of blood and treasure. The briefing for the press omitted the log and the cookies.
Governments and individuals lie whenever they believe it’s in their best interests to do so, perhaps most often when power or money is involved. Often it’s both. Everyone and every organization with an agenda has a motive to lie. We like to believe in honesty. We are committed to fairness, equality, freedom and many other virtues, but when money or power are involved and the possible loss of either, we may excuse ourselves for misleading or otherwise not telling the whole truth. But our county, our state, our federal government? Legislators? Our President? Lying? Shocking, that’s what it is.
When our valley and our mountains first saw roads at the turn of the 19th century they were all toll roads. The roads to Estes Park from Lyons and from Loveland, the road from Lyons to Allen’s Park, as it was known then, were all toll roads. They had gates and people who made a living building the roads and then charging people to drive their wagons, carts, buggies, horses and livestock on them.
In those days, of course, there were no taxes. No income taxes and no property taxes. But people got tired of toll-gates and elected officials said that if everyone would pay a property tax the toll roads could be eliminated and many other common needs could be paid for. Furthermore, if some of those taxes went to the federal government, even better roads could be constructed. And the population, tired of paying tolls, said “That sounds like a good idea.” That’s why we have U.S. Highways 34 and 36 and Colorado Highway 7 down the South St. Vrain Canyon. In 2008 Colorado Highway 7 was widened and repaved from the Hilltop Guild all the way to Lyons, and none of us was asked to pay a single toll. Our taxes paid for it.
I get really tired of people who want the government to leave them alone. We live in a republic. We should expect to pay for the things the government does for us, mostly because earlier generations decided they didn’t want toll roads or poor houses or people left by the side of the road to die.
But those earlier generations were apparently smarter than the current one. Four percent of us think Hawaii isn’t part of the United States. Twenty percent think the sun revolves around the earth. Among Republicans, forty-two percent think President Obama isn’t an American. Forty-four percent believe in ghosts. Fifty-five percent think angels watch over us. The list goes on. Our ignorance knows almost no bounds. We see on television that many old folks want the government to keep its hands off Medicare. They are unaware that Medicare, first proposed by President Truman in 1945, when it was attacked as “socialized medicine,” was signed into law, along with Medicaid, in 1965 by President Johnson as a federal program. It took twenty years from first proposal to provide medical care for some of our elderly and poor.
This summer Big Owl Road had quite a bit of work done. It was widened, its ditches improved, new road base added where it was needed. When it was done new dust suppressant was applied. Your taxes and mine paid for it. I didn’t have to pay a toll and neither did anyone else. Why is this concept so difficult for us to understand? We use our highways and complain when they aren’t plowed. We use our emergency services and complain when their response is less than instant. And yet we complain about paying the taxes that pay for all the services we get from the state and the federal government. We want a sheriff deputy. We want the road plowed. We want an ambulance. We want and we get. But we don’t want to pay for it, and we certainly don’t want to pay for anyone else’s use of those services. Who should pay for it? Anyone else but us.
I’m going to enjoy the improvements to Big Owl Road, and I’m very glad that my taxes, and those of everyone else along the road, paid for it. It sure beats paying a toll every time I use it.
Racism in America Today
When was the last time you saw a Black, Hispanic or Asian in our mountains? If you can remember, it’s because it was such an unusual occurrence.
If you saw one of these it may have been that they were involved in building or renovating a cabin or house or a road. At the recent expensive Gala at The Gallery in Allenaspark I saw nothing but Caucasians.
In some ways I suppose we’re fortunate. We don’t have to deal with the racial strife that permeates the flatlands. Do you really think we’re not a racist country? In every classroom in which I taught for almost 50 years the Blacks banded together, sitting as a group, right, left, front or back, most often two-thirds back. Why? Because Blacks understand that this is still a racist country and they need the society and protection of their likes. We live in a country where a Representative from South Carolina can talk back to President in a speech to a joint session of the Congress, not because he disagrees with the president, but because he has no respect for the President because he’s Black. And only half Black at that.
This representative, widely admired by racists, is a Colonel in the Army Reserves. Beginning in 1972 he served in the reserves until 2003 as a lawyer, never serving a day oversees or a moment in combat, but an officer nonetheless, who told his commander-in-chief “You lie.” Ordinarily, this would be a court-martial offense, but if you’re a Representative from South Carolina, a state that proudly flew the Confederate battle flag on top of the state capitol from 1962 to 1999, you have constituents who believe, seriously, that you should get the Medal of Honor. And like a proud racist, you apologize but, like a recalcitrant racist child, say that you only did so because you were forced to. After all, this President is Black, even if he’s only half Black.
If politicians’ lies warranted outbursts in the Congress, we would hear little else. Do “weapons of mass destruction” and “significant quantities of yellow-cake” ring a bell?
Now we have a justice of the peace in Louisiana who won’t marry an interracial couple. Mr. Bardwell says he not a racist but “I just don’t believe in mixing the races that way,” and “There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage," and "I think those children suffer and I won't help put them through it." He is apparently unaware that our President is the child of just such a marriage.
This racism is cloaked in many ways, in charges that the President is a Socialist, that he’s not a citizen, that he’s going to turn over the country to the Muslims because he’s secretly a Muslim. Garbage. They don’t respect him, and many distrust him or hate him simply because he’s Black, and only half black at that.
One of the oddest charges is that his health care for every American agenda is too costly. This from those who support two wars we cannot win and which will eventually cost the country many times more than the cost of health care for everyone for the next twenty years. We have almost half a million veterans who will require government health care for the rest of their lives; at least four trillion dollars in today’s dollars. We have many more badly injured in these wars still alive than in any other war we’ve ever fought. But war, even though it hasn’t been in a federal budget for the past eight years, gets a pass. That’s different. Well, money is still money, no matter how it’s spent or owed.
I spent 25 years of my life in the service of my country, the greatest country the world has ever known. I am ashamed of the racism that has existed here, from the days of slavery when Blacks were only property, to today, when racists feel threatened by a half Black President who wants only to serve his country; who has seen wrongs and wants to right them, who wants every American to be respected by the quality of their character and not the color of their skin, who wants every American to have the right to try to lead a healthy, productive life. What’s wrong with that, even if he is half Black?
Are These The Good Old Days?
November is a time when many of us have closed our cabins until next spring and it always reminds me how much things have changed. When I was a kid in Portland, Oregon our garbage man climbed 10 steps, walked 50 feet, carried the garbage can, which was metal, back to his truck, dumped it and put the can back on the back porch. You can’t find anyone to do that any more, in Portland or anywhere else.
In 1920 there wasn’t a single garbage man or flush toilet in our mountains. We didn’t have electricity or telephones until after World War II. Before that Mr. McCollister’s gasoline had to be pumped by hand out of the underground tank into the tall glass cylinders where you could see it before it was drained into the car. There was no electric lift to raise a car and lubrication was accomplished in a pit next to the station where one drove up ramps to elevate it. There were no paper towels; Mr. McCollister washed the windshield with water and a red cotton shop rag. Without all the pesticides we had more bugs splattered on our windshields in those days. He made sure he got them all. Checked the oil and water, too. Just part of the service.
We had milk delivered in glass bottles by a milkman in a white uniform who came from Longmont in a white van and brought milk, cream, cottage cheese, butter and may have brought eggs as well. He parked down below our cabin and walked up the hill, his left arm sticking out as he balanced the weight of the food in the carrier in his right hand. We had delivery of baked goods as well. I remember the doughnuts.
Today we have residents who commute to Longmont and Boulder. That became possible about 50 years ago, when Highway 7 was improved, but not commonplace until a few years ago. Just after WW II shopping was a big trip, even to Brody’s in Estes Park, but a shopping trip to Denver was an all-day excursion. It took almost four hours to drive to Denver, then it was shopping at Daniels and Fisher Department Store and, one hoped, an ice-cream soda and French Mints at Bauer’s, with its wire chairs and white–tiled floor. The tiled floor is all that remains of Bauer’s in the Baur’s Ristorante. [Since closed] The drive back to our mountains often ended after dark. Daniels and Fisher was bought by the May Company in 1958 and the store was torn down in 1971. The May Company disappeared in 2005.
Hiking has changed as well. In the 1920s and 30s people walked more often. There was very little automobile traffic. We could hear the mail truck coming as we sat waiting on our front gate almost as soon as it drove off the highway and onto what was then Big Owl and later Cabin Creek Road. Hiking was just hiking and technical climbing of places like the East Face was rare. When my parents climbed the Little Matterhorn in the Park they used a clothes-line as a safety rope.
Sometimes it’s really difficult to decide whether those were the good old days or these are the good old days and we just don’t know it. Sure, life in our mountains was simpler and closer to nature, especially when nature called on a frosty morning. Kerosene lamps were hard to maintain. Copeland Lake ice in ice-boxes didn’t keep things very cold for very long. People who lived here all year long spent much of the summer cutting and splitting wood for the winter.
It’s very quiet around here in November. The snow birds have flown. It takes a certain and still rare breed of a little more than 400 folks to live in our 42 square miles the year around. There’s no doubt that winter in our mountains is beautiful. If you haven’t seen it in winter you’ve really missed something. But it’s as austere and almost as remote and difficult as it was 60 years ago. Some things don’t change very much.
© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner
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