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Recent Writings VI
Health Care (2013)
In nearly every edition of the Wind there’s something about health care, whether in a column about an organization, or something from the county, or an obituary. We worry about our health because sooner or later even among the healthiest of us, we eventually have to leave our mountains for the last time to live on the flatlands below. The luckiest of us, perhaps, drop dead up here.
Now that the dust has settled around the latest election, with all its warnings and promises about health care, it might be time to look at the realities of health care in our country and why we worry so much about it.
One of the things we thought about when I finished graduate school was what was going to happen to us when we got old. My father was old then and would die in the next five years. He was a supporter of right-to-die organizations and after suffering for many years from osteoarthritis of the spine took his own life, dying peacefully at home. Health care for me and my family was a serious consideration when we decided to reenter active military service 45 years ago. Mary had been a first lieutenant Air Force registered nurse before we married, so she was a veteran as well.
For the next 15 years of active duty we had the best medical care in the world at no cost to us. When I was injured in Southeast Asia I was cared for in several military hospitals, including Fitzsimons here in Denver. When I retired in 1983 we continued to have excellent care, first with Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Uniformed Services, a system for retirees under 65 and then with Medicare and Tricare For Life. Tricare For Life pays for what Medicare doesn’t, and has no co-pays except for medications. Mary, because she is not a retiree, has co-pays for care and medications with the VA. If she used Medicare and Tricare her costs would be even less. The value of the health care we have received in the past 30 years easily exceeds a million dollars.
It should be a matter of common knowledge by now that nearly every industrialized country in the world provides this kind of health care for every citizen. One of Mary’s Certified Nursing Assistants was hospitalized recently, had no insurance and is now facing bills in excess of $100,000. If she can’t pay the bills the costs will be passed on to those with insurance. In effect, that is socialized health care. In Colorado the average cost of health insurance for a family is $438 a month, with an average deductible of $3,879. Those without incomes can apply for Medicaid, but many, like Mary’s CNA, make too much money to be eligible for Medicaid. My mother was determined to never be in a nursing home, but spent the last 43 months of her life in a nursing home. Those months cost almost $300,000. Too many Americans can tell similar stories.
We were, as it turns out, smarter than we knew at the time, being in the federal government single-payer system of health care. We did purchase long-term care insurance for Mary, and we could afford it because our other health care costs were small. I qualify for veterans’ long-term care as a military retiree.
Many would say we’re entitled to this care because of our service to the country. But doesn’t every taxpayer provide a service to the country? Congress has been trying to deal with this problem for decades and still our country doesn’t provide health care for everyone at reasonable cost. Other countries pay higher taxes, but those taxes do provide health care for everyone and the costs are less. In the United States only the military and its retirees and one other group of active and retired people are guaranteed health care for life at little or no cost. That group? Congress.
Guns and Numbers
In 1950 there were about 300 year around residents in Allenspark and our valley. Today it’s about 400. When I was born the US population was 127 million and in 1950 it was 152 million. When the Wind published its first edition in February 1974 the population was 214 million and today it’s 315 million. When the US Constitution was written the population was nine hundred and forty-five thousand and in our mountains it was zero. Native Americans knew better than to spend the winter here. There was no such thing as a gun that could fire more than one bullet without reloading.
We don’t think much about all those numbers when it comes to the problems we have in the country today but perhaps we should. We read about violence in the various media and we think we should be able to control it with laws or education or identifying the mentally ill. But we don’t like laws restricting guns and education has no effect on bad guys. Identifying the mentally ill is just open season on neighbors we don’t like.
People haul out their copies of the Constitution and tell us we should be strict constitutionalists, but the Constitution has been amended twenty-seven times. Other than the first ten, it hasn’t been easy. It requires two-thirds of the states approving and there are six, including the Equal Rights amendment, that haven’t made the grade. Some of the amendments have made big changes and one was repealed. But we do love the second amendment; it’s not going away any time soon, even though we don’t have any well regulated militias any more.
Recently someone suggested that the movie theatre in Aurora should be torn down and turned into a memorial. The theatre reopened instead but we do have 29 National Memorials and six more run by the National Park Service and many thousands more in states, cities and on roadsides There are more than three thousand counties in the country and if each one has only 100 cemeteries, the total number of burial grounds in our country is surely more than half a million. If our species and our country last long enough there will be nothing but memorials and cemeteries.
The real problem is simply our numbers. When I was a kid and we had only half the people we have now. The maybe five percent of wackos, thieves and other assorted bad guys was only eight million in the whole country, which is still pretty big number. We had, even then, one gun for every person in the country but we didn’t lock our doors and you could leave your keys in the car with the windows open. Today we have at least sixteen million, probably more, who would rob you blind if they got the chance or kill you if they could afford the weaponry and only a million and half are in prison. Those millions on the loose do have guns, since there are now at least 300 million of those lying around, most not locked up, most of them not registered, and many loaded with thirty-round magazines.
In our valley, where violence was really unknown in the first half of the 20th century, we’ve had an increasing number of altercations of one kind or another, some of them resulting in bodily harm and all of them the subject of our version of water-cooler discussion and tut-tutting at the post office and restaurants and the Old Gallery.
We have had more than our share of gun incidents in Colorado but we are a western state with plenty of hunters and plenty of gun stores and any person with a grudge or a disabled sense of right and wrong can buy a semi-automatic rifle and plenty of ammunition and a bulletproof vest and load up and kill. We are still surprised when that happens but it’s just the numbers. The more of us there are, and the more guns there are, the more we are going have these incidents and yes, even in our mountains. There will be many more cold, dead hands holding assault weapons before it’s over.
It feels a little odd. The things I remember quite clearly are now regarded as ancient history by current residents of our mountains. Just another consequence of growing old. And speaking of growing, I suspect some of our residents have plans for the six now legal plants of what used to be called reefer when I was a kid.
Our county commissioners haven’t, as of this month, done anything about Amendment 64 to the Colorado Constitution, that, as almost everyone knows by now, allows the recreational use of marijuana in the state. That includes summer residents, too. Even though our growing season is short, feminized seeds should do well enough to provide a crop by Labor Day. After all, it’s just a weed.
This is not my first experience here with the wide use of grass, giggle weed, herb, kick stick, magic smoke, Mary Jane, pot, Texas tea. Back in the late 60s and early 70s marijuana was in common use around here, even by our revered postmaster, Otto Walter. I was, fortunately or unfortunately, excluded because I was on active duty with the Air Force. But it was no secret and it has been around, more or less clandestinely, ever since.
Several counties and cities have already passed ordinances restricting the use of it since the passage of Amendment 64. One suburb of Denver, Greenwood Village, has made it illegal to transport it on city streets and sidewalks. Since we’re allowed to grow six plants, somehow the seeds will have to traverse streets and sidewalks, and unless they change the ordinance that town can look forward to an expensive lawsuit they will surely lose. Several other cities and counties have similarly enacted restrictions they will have to defend, apparently unaware that the state constitution trumps many of their restrictions. Meanwhile smarter towns and counties will let stores sell plants and grow lights and use the taxes to maintain roads and sidewalks.
Boulder county may be living up to its smart and liberal reputation by not doing anything, That remains to be seen.
Just a few years ago the federal government went to great lengths and cost in hauling out a large number of plants from a forest farm in the Raymond area, so we know the area will support growing it. The one ounce allowed by the constitution and the six plants per person were carefully worded to allow recreational use without, supposedly, allowing expansion. But I remember in the 1970s when I signed a petition in Central City to allow limited gambling, and look what happened. Not what we expected. We haven’t visited Black Hawk or Central City in 20 years as a result of the incredible expansion of gambling there.
The marijuana amendment, however, will be much more difficult to alter in any significant way. It’s in the constitution and its allowances and limitations are very specific.
Probably not much will change with regard to the behavior of residents and summer people. Our relative isolation has always been one of the attractions of the place, where we can do a little more as we please than the city folks on the flatlands. But most of us believe in moderation and I doubt we’re going to have many folks abusing the legalizing of what’s already been going on here for at least the past forty years.
In the Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day,” Phil Connors lives the same day for thousands of years, so he always knows that the day is going to end in a blizzard. This is really easy forecasting. Weather forecasting on Guam is easy: the high will be 94, the low 78, with light winds and scattered ocean cumulous clouds unless there’s a typhoon, which can be seen hundreds of miles away. Very easy forecasting.
Weather forecasting in Colorado is an altogether different kettle of fish. You may have noticed that weather forecasts in our mountains are often wrong, particularly in the winter, when a forecast storm may be nothing and a nothing forecast may be a blizzard and a foot of snow. How can this be when we have NOAA and satellites, and automated weather stations and on TV they can show us the lightning strikes in the last hour?
With apologies to our esteemed weather person Will Rense and all other forecasters, it’s still, when it comes to Colorado, an inexact science.
Forecasting on the western slope is relatively easy. It’s the mountains themselves, those beautiful things we love to look at and admire, that make it so difficult to know what will happen in the small area just to the east of the Rockies. Farther east, on the plains, no problem. On flat land high and low pressure areas and frontal systems behave with predictability. In the 300 miles between Grand Junction and Limon low pressure systems coming from the west, moisture from the south, cold fronts from the north, depending on where they are and how fast they’re moving, how much moisture and the temperatures make guessing about winter storms a meteorologist’s nightmare.
You may also have noticed that with forecasters in newspapers and on television, there’s a Code of he West that says “Never admit that the weather was a surprise. Never. In the winter, fill the forecast with “might’s,” “could be’s.” “possibly’s” and “likely’s.” But no matter what happens, act at all times as though the weather is exactly as you predicted it.” It’s like a slightly more devious Boy Scout oath, but just as closely adhered to.
Forecasting in the winter in Colorado has about as much in common with science as it does with fortune telling.
How many times have we gone to bed expecting to have a blanket of snow in the morning, only to wake up to find…nothing? And how many times have we planned work or a drive, or, horror of horrors, an hour and a half trip to DIA, only to find a complete mess of snow and slush and plows and not enough windshield fluid?
It would be so refreshing to read in the paper we have no idea what the weather is going to be tomorrow, but here is our best guess and please remember, it’s just a guess. Will the day ever come when a TV weather person says “Well, I really blew it, if you’ll forgive the expression, when I didn’t predict hurricane force winds and snow in the foothills last night.” Wouldn’t that be nice?
Navigating the Changes
Somebody asked me to write about change in our mountains. But it seems to me that’s mostly what I do write about, whether it’s from the old days or what’s happening now. Often we’re resistant to change, even as it makes our lives better.
One of the recurring themes is how our lives have been changed by technology, not only with what we do, but the effect on our relationships with our friends and neighbors, the government and our environment. Take drones, for example. We tend to think about them mostly with regard to the drones the CIA is using to kill suspected terrorists. Their use has sparked quite a debate about the ethics of using them. Who knew we’d be talking about that ten years ago?
You might think drones have nothing to do with us, but one of the things we like most about living here is our privacy. Some of us moved here just for that reason. You might have to think more about your privacy when drones become more widely used. Some of us have done some things to our property that might not have involved a building permit and we got away with it because the county doesn’t very closely inspect our properties since it takes people in cars or trucks or on foot to do it and it’s expensive. But Unmanned Aerial Vehicles can do that work very fast and very cheaply.
Search and rescue has always been a problem. Labor intensive and easy to miss things. Helicopter searching is noisy, expensive and dangerous. Drones are relatively cheap, relatively quiet, and relatively safe. We can expect their use in just the next few years. UAV’s can inspect roads, track wildlife, discover and count beetle trees, check water levels in lakes and reservoirs, any number of things people do in person. Sometime in the not too distant future you might be fishing and find a drone hovering overhead asking you to show it your fishing license.
New things in our valley are often viewed as an invasion of our privacy. Sometimes they are, but mostly they’re just improvements in the way we live. My grandfather wanted nothing to do with electricity, telephones or even radio when he was here in the summers beginning in 1917. Although he had many guests, he resisted all modern gadgetry, save for the automobile, at his summer home. He thought, probably correctly, that such things got between him and his enjoyment of the mountains. He died in 1955 without ever owning, or perhaps even seeing, television.
Although electric service has become more and more reliable in recent years, we still have several kerosene lamps, more for nostalgia than usefulness. Most of us have microwaves, television, computers and other 21st century trappings in our cabins, but still we resist the temptation to build modern houses, building instead even more expensive log cabins.
We are suspicious of newcomers. We’ve seen cabins and land change hands many times. A new and not particularly attractive log cabin was built on Cabin Creek Road some 40 years ago and I’ve never known who owned it; it’s changed hands at least five times. The builders tried to keep a horse on the hill next to the road and the land is still recovering. Some people come and go and we try to get to know them and they just disappear after a few years. Newcomers often feel unwanted. It does take a while for old residents to accept the idea that they intend to stay. Quite a few have come with lots of money and made big changes to the landscape and then decided to leave. That behavior has made long-time residents wary of newcomers, moneyed or not. Still, the years roll on, old folks leave or die and the new become the old. Like the spring, summer, fall and winter, change, albeit sometimes slow, is inevitable.
A Wounded Hawk
It isn’t unusual to see a hawk in a tree near our winter quarters. The trees provide a great view of a prairie dog town in open space. Sometimes a prairie dog gets careless and the hawk gets an easy meal. The prairie dogs get an improvement in their gene pool. Our prairie dogs are getting smarter all the time; we have several coyotes in the area.
But it’s very unusual to see a hawk just sitting on the ground surrounded by prairie dog holes, looking listless. Moving closer to it the bird hopped away, dragging its right wing. What to do?
I looked for “raptor rescue” on my cell phone and found The Birds of Prey Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the rehabilitation and release of injured and orphaned raptors. More than 500 hawks, eagles, vultures and owls arrive at the Broomfield facility from all over Colorado and other states. Many of the birds have flown into closed windows or landed on power lines, collided with cars, or were shot or poisoned. They return hundreds of birds to the wild every year.
Raptors are an important part of the ecological system, keeping animal populations like the prairie dogs in check and cleaning up dead animals. The hawk in question is a red-tailed hawk, sometimes called a chicken hawk, the most common hawk in our country with more than a million of them. It sounds like a lot of hawks, but all raptors are in decline as a result of human interference. Red-tails, trained as juveniles, are the most used raptor by about 5,000 licensed falconers in the U.S. They weigh up to five pounds, mate for life and lay their eggs in March or April.
The Birds of Prey Foundation (http://www.birds-of-prey.org) has an emergency telephone number. Two of their many volunteers fortunately lived nearby and within a few minutes they arrived with nets and cages to capture and transport injured birds. It was easily covered with a net, quickly wrapped in towels to fold its wings, removed from the towels and placed in a large cage for transport. [picture]
I thought the hawk had a broken wing, but that proved not to be the case. It had landed on a live electrical wire and the current went into the leg, through the body and exited from the wingtip. The tissues in both wing and leg began to die. Once at the Foundation the hawk, a female, had something to eat and was examined. It was determined that the necrosis would be fatal, and the hawk was euthanized.
Our relationship to wild creatures is complex and often difficult, not only in urban areas, but here in our mountains as well. We try to coexist, but as our numbers increase we impinge more often and with deadly results on the wild life that was here before us. What we do often encroaches on habitat and the things we do and build pose dangers to some species and advantages to others. Our bears were scarce and now we have too many and the drought has made them lose weight and have fewer cubs. Our interactions with them will be even more difficult in the next few years as they depend even more on our food. Organizations like Birds of Prey try to mitigate our impact, but it is a war with both wins and losses. Domestic cats kill 20 billion mammals every year including mice and rats, and they also kill up to 4 billion birds. On the other hand, hawks kill many outdoor cats. It’s complicated.
I took some comfort in knowing that the hawk I reported had a comfortable death and did not have to face a hungry coyote at the end, but that, too has another side. Some will say we interfered with the natural order of things, but we are responsible. We put the thing, in its territory, that killed it.
My wife Mary died peacefully in her sleep on the morning of June 25th about 3:30 AM. She had been in home hospice care for nine days, twelve years and fifteen days after a stroke and 53 wonderful years together.
She was born December 27th, 1934 in Owensboro, Kentucky to Gonzaga Aloysius and Bertha Coomes. She never had a birthday present until we married. G. A. or Doc Coomes, as he was known, was a farmer and whiskey taster and tester of both legal and illegal alcohol. He worked for the Glenmore Distillery whose best known product was, and is, Kentucky Tavern bourbon. She was the 4th of five children, the last two of whom were girls who became registered nurses. She attended nursing school in Hamilton, Ohio and was first in her class.
After briefly working in Chicago, she joined the Air Force in 1959 as a 1st Lieutenant because an officer nurse was much better paid than a civilian R.N. She was assigned to Harlingen Air Force Base in Texas, a navigator training base with 2,500 young men, most of whom were single, and less than a dozen nurses. I met her because I was an instructor, also active in local community theatre, and the hospital commander wanted to put on a show. He thought, correctly, that the way to get me to do it was to get his cutest nurse to ask me. At the Officers Club one evening someone told me Lt. Coomes, at the bar, wanted to talk to me. When she turned and looked at me I knew I would be spending the rest of my life with her. I remember that moment very well. She was sitting at the left hand end of the crowded bar…
She married me in 1961, she said, because I made her laugh. I tried to make good on that for the next 52 years.
We moved ten times with the Air Force, graduate school and retirement, to Texas twice, Michigan, Oregon, California three times, Guam and twice in Colorado. She did most of the work in raising two boys as my flying kept me from home. She worked as an orthopedic ward charge nurse to pay for my Masters degree in Michigan and continued to work as a labor and delivery nurse in Oregon as I finished a Ph.D. She was a Red Cross nurse on Guam teaching prenatal care and continued to work in labor and delivery in California and Colorado, a total of 36 years of full time nursing.
When she retired she served on the Allenspark Senior Advisory Committee and was appointed by the governor to serve two terms on the Colorado State Commission on Aging. She served on and chaired the Boulder County Aging Advisory Council and was the first president of the Aging Services Foundation serving Boulder County. She was the smartest woman I ever knew.
The stroke in 2001 put her in a wheelchair but she never complained. She retained her sense of humor and regarded any problem as a challenge to her intellect and determination. It was my privilege to care for her until she died because I knew she would have done the same for me.
She was admired and respected by everyone who knew her and loved by those who knew her well. She held strong opinions and was a shrewd judge of character. The character of her children is a testament to her example. She leaves behind two loving sons and daughters-in-law, five grandchildren and a husband who will love her and miss her every day for the rest of his life.
When I was a kid, twelve years old, in the late 1940s, and spent my summers in our mountains, one of the only things to be afraid of was Dermacentor andersoni, the Rocky Mountain wood tick.
Lyme disease was unknown. That wasn’t even named until 1975 and it was in Connecticut. Today, Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in the Northern Hemisphere and has been found in every state except Montana. But we knew about ticks, and after a day spent outdoors, particularly if we went fishing, we had to be searched for ticks, because they caused the dreaded Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. RMSF is still the most lethal rickettsial infection in the United States, a microorganism between bacteria and viruses.
Today Doxycycline, a Pfizer antibiotic developed in the 1960s, is effective with both RMSF and Lyme. The key to prevention is getting rid of the tick before it infects, within 24 hours or an accurate diagnosis when symptoms appear. Flu-like symptoms are often misdiagnosed in both cases.
These days we don’t even inspect the grandchildren for ticks, because we haven’t seen one in many years. I remember them well, however. They liked warm and moist places, which meant that they would crawl up legs or arms until they found a warm, moist place and then they would dig in, drink blood, and if left to their own devices would swell up to many times their original size. We always found them before that happened and my father would put a lighted cigarette close to a tick’s back and it would back out in a hurry and quickly be disposed of. That method is now frowned upon, for several reasons, but it worked for us.
When I lived in Texas and had dogs, their ears would often have ticks. I removed them with tweezers, grabbing the tick by its head, now the preferred method. But those were big, soft, Texas ticks, easy to grab, unlike the little, hard, Rocky Mountain ticks.
Tick season in our valley peaks in May, but ticks live for several years and can go without eating for at least a year. They hide in bushes next to trails and transfer to people or animals as they pass by. Long sleeves, long pants and DEET are all effective in keeping ticks away.
Just like Miller moths, ticks are more evident in some years than in others and just like Millers, why that happens is a mystery. Weather seems to be a factor, but the evidence is often contradictory.
We can be less afraid of ticks than when I was a child, but we have some new and more dangerous wildlife to contend with. Recently a woman on the Front Range was walking her dog, apparently not on a leash, and the dog ran toward a moose. The woman tried to intervene and was badly injured by the moose. We are having to learn the hard way that moose fear nothing. In Alaska, moose are routinely killed by trains because they refuse to move off the tracks. Alaskans know better than to confront a moose, whose top speed is about 50 mph. And now we have to be afraid of bears, particularly in times of drought. Like us, bears are omnivores and will eat almost anything that has calories.
Put into perspective, ticks seem to be fairly innocuous, Still, it's a good idea to look ourselves over in springtime.
The Great Flood of 2013
There are many ways to define pragmatism. It comes, as so many words do, from the Greek, “deed,” “act.” I have always thought of myself as a pragmatist, because my life has been dictated by acts, my responses to what I saw as problems. Most of my big problems, whether in my personal life, my military life or my academic life, I responded to based on practical considerations rather than abstract because they were immediate. When an engine quits in the center of a typhoon you need to do something.
Noah was a pragmatist. Faced with God’s forecast of a flood, he built an ark. A practical solution. God didn’t tell us. So here we are, born again pragmatists, having to drive to either Grand Lake or Black Hawk, at least until the snow flies, to get somewhere other than our mountains. The aspens turning, the elk mating season are abstract considerations. How to get gasoline or propane is a practical question. How long it will take to get to DIA or Boulder? Practical considerations. How will tourists come to our valley next spring? When will Highway 7 be repaired? How much will it all cost? How long will it take? These things are not abstract, they are here and now and our problematic future. We know 80% of businesses that go through this sort of catastrophe fail within two years. 80%. That isn’t abstract.
Our mountains have been through this kind of disaster many times in the past. Fire, flood, glaciers, earthquakes, going back millions of years. But not with us, and not with so many of us, who crowd around the fresh water that supports our lives, to our peril.
The Internet, electricity, paved roads, water treatment plants, Facebook, Twitter, supermarkets, gas stations, restaurants, all the amenities of modern life suddenly don’t exist for us when the bottom drops out and all those things are suddenly unavailable and survival is all that counts. Welcome to the harsh realities of the world of the limber pines.
All of a sudden we face problems beyond imagination, and Gene Mackey and his grader, on whom we depend to keep our little dirt roads not just passable, but well groomed, has problems he, and all of us, never dreamed of
For a while, perhaps several years, we are all going to be pragmatists, as we confront the problems created in just three days. Our visions of the future will have to wait. We already know what some of the problems are and we are already working on solutions. Some will be easier to solve than we thought. Some will be more difficult. One of the limitations of pragmatism is that it deals with the here and now and not with visions of the future. Pragmatic solutions don’t deal with contingencies. The state has a contingency fund of $100 million for infrastructure. That will not cover the cost of the damage we face.
Thousands of people whose homes have been damaged or lost will be asking, begging, for money from the federal government they profess to hate. The $35 million already on its way will be gone by the end of this year.
We think the flood is an aberration, a 100 year event, and it may be, but it is also a warning. We affect the planet, but we cannot control it. Not only do the mountains not care, the planet doesn’t care. The problem of our numbers, right here, right now, is no longer abstract, but very, very practical. We will act. We will be pragmatic. The politicians have told us, without specifics, that we will rebuild and be better than before. That’s what they said in 1976 when the Big Thompson flooded. They were right, after great expense, and it’s gone again, and so is much, much more. What will happen this time after we rebuild?
More About the Flood
“We’re not out of the woods yet.” How often have I heard and used that phrase? It’s particularly apt these days, as we continue to recover from a flood to rival Noah’s, at least from our point of view.
When I read last month’s Wind I was struck by the idea that old places seemed to do much better than new places. My cabin and others on my family’s property were almost entirely undamaged. The youngest of them, built less than 20 years ago, was built on the same site as the original cabin in 1923 and it was unharmed. The others, ranging in age from 81 to 93 years, were either undamaged or only slightly impinged upon.
The people who first built summer homes in our mountains lived, as did most Americans at the beginning of the 20th century, close to surface water, just as people had been doing since the dawn of civilization along the Tigress and Euphrates. Awareness of floods was among their highest priorities. Building homes on high ground was part of their history. It shouldn’t surprise us that the oldest homes in our valley that have survived for many decades are all on high ground, beyond the reach of any flood other than a cataclysm, a true Doomsday washing down.
Do you want to build safely? Don’t look for willows, but for ponderosas. An aspen grove is beautiful and lodgepole pines grow rapidly, but centuries old ponderosas fairly reek of stability.
My grandfather bought a cabin near the stream and if it had not rotted away during WWII it would not have survived much longer and certainly would not have survived our current flood. But he built there because Mr. Grant’s homestead cabin had been built there. Mr. Grant did not intend to die there, but only to prove up the homestead and sell it to a college professor or minister or some-such from the Midwest. But grandfather, when he and the people to whom he gave land built anew, built subsequent cabins on high ground, all of which still stand.
You might call it species memory or common sense, but whatever the reason, given a choice, people will build on high ground. You would think, in our mountains, there is plenty of high ground. But high ground has its own problems, the first and foremost is the lack of easy access to fresh water. Grandfather had plenty of land along the stream and he solved the problem with gravity and 200 yards of pipe to a dam he built upstream. He had fresh summer water without electricity.
A great many cabins were built using gravity and pipes, or ditches, or shallow wells next to streams. Many others used only a few weeks in summer made do with an outhouse and water from Crystal Springs. A few still exist. But many drilled wells.
Fresh water access has been a limiting factor in our valley since the native Americans were the first visitors. Electricity made it possible to bring water to cabins and homes on small plots of ground beyond access to surface water. Without electricity, our cabins would again be clustered next to surface water and subject to flooding and living here in the winter would be as difficult at it was for those who tried to live here in the winter before electricity and eventually gave up.
Events like the flood of 2013 remind us how tenuous is our grip in the face of the natural world that gives us such beauty and peace and joy and occasional disasters. We don’t want to be out of the woods. We love being in the woods and believe we are the masters of them, but only until the woods remind us that the earth abides, and we are here only for the blink of the cosmic eye.
Patience has not been among my few virtues. God apparently didn’t grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. I am accustomed to having what I like to call a glass of patience before dinner. The flood upped the impatience level in the residents of our mountains as soon as we discovered that we’d been cut off from our usual roads. All of us immediately wondered, “How long will it be until the roads are open?”
It became clear very quickly that it would be a while. We’re a community priding itself on its desire to live with less regulation, less interference from the dreaded government. Suddenly we were asking, begging actually, for immediate and massive assistance from Big Government and would tomorrow be convenient?
Then we learned that we were third in line, behind US 34 and 36, because ours is State Highway 7.
The fix was promised by December 1st and thanks to an odd irony concerning our unnecessary wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the work on the US highways and Colorado 7 was accomplished, at least temporarily, ahead of schedule and all were opened by November 26th. The National Guard civil engineering teams called upon to help had lots of practice building roads in the mountains of Afghanistan and they know how to build roads even under fire. Doing so in our quiet canyons was easy, and quick.
Still, there will be closures for many months to come as temporary repairs are turned into permanent (at least until the next deluge) construction.
There will be plenty of flaggers and delays of varying length on all three highways until at least the end of next summer. We will have to be patient.
Impatience is probably built into our species and it may have helped us get to the top of the food chain. Every parent and teacher knows that every child is impatient with being a child. Big people get to do whatever they want. They can play with fire, drive cars, use bad language, buy whatever they want at the grocery store. Being a kid is just a long wait to do anything important or fun. A trike is okay, but when can I have a Corvette?
I didn’t really learn to be patient about anything much until computers entered my life. I started using them in 1967 and I had to learn that this was something it would take a long time to learn and an abundance of patience. It took years to realize that being impatient with a machine was totally unproductive; I was still angry and I was still getting bad results. I was blaming the machine, but the fault was mine. Samuel Beckett put it well: I was blaming the boots for the faults of the feet.
So I learned to be patient with myself and find a way, albeit often slowly, to solve the problems and move on. Being impatient, I finally learned, was a total waste of time and energy.
These days, when a tree blows down or the power goes out, I am more patient, even though, in a practical sense, I’m running out of time. No point in getting mad at the weather or the power company or the delays in getting the roads repaired. Bad things happen and we work individually and together to put things right. It takes time. We just have to be a little patient.
It’s a new year and while we’re always more or less concerned about what the coming year will bring, this year we have more uncertainty than usual. The highway is usable but not restored. What will the effect be on tourists? Is this kind of freakish weather going to continue? In the beautiful winter in our valley we have plenty of time to worry about the future.
One of my professor friends at CU in the School of Education was billed as a futurist. I’d never heard of such a thing as a profession, although fortune tellers and soothsayers, palm and tea-leaf readers have been with us forever and since the 19th century psychics have made a good living. Unfortunately they all have one thing in common; they’re almost always wrong. My friend in the 80s and 90s had no idea what technology was going to do to education. He certainly had no idea that 5th graders were going to have their smart phones confiscated if they used them in class within the next 20 years. Did he predict sexting among middle-schoolers? No.
The trouble with predicting the future is that the future is so unpredictable. Ask any weather forecaster. I remember that pundits and Sabbath gasbags on television had the 1960s all mapped out, with Kennedy and his loony ideas about going to the moon (okay, impossible, why?) and a war in Asia with an uncertain outcome, but they were willing to predict anyway. Just like that, all the predictions, both favorable and unfavorable, about his future (and the war) were wrong.
We are, arguably, the only creatures on the planet who can conceive of a future. Very often we don’t like what we envision and we share our feelings. Sometimes we anticipate the future with pleasure and in either case it’s rarely exactly what we expected. Mostly we just try to enjoy life and clean up the messes as we go along.
Now we have predictions that it will be four years before all the roads are brought back to pre-flood condition. And that prediction, too, will probably be wrong. Might be shorter, might be longer, but exactly four years? Unlikely.
The late Sylvia Browne was the most famous modern psychic. She had 22 books on the NY Times bestseller list, even though she never accurately predicted the outcome of a missing person case. President Reagan and his wife depended on the astrologer and psychic Jeane Dixon, who predicted that a president would be assassinated or die in office, not necessarily in his first term, and got credit for predicting JFK’s assassination. She predicted that Russians would be the first men on the moon. She also wrote a horoscope book for dogs.
We really do want to know about the future, even though we realize, in our quieter moments, that the future is unknowable.
I looked at the spot where the culvert used to be at the bottom of Big Owl Road. I saw the asphalt that was the ford of the stream until after World War II, seven feet below the new road. Then the culvert was put in, and it was gone. Suddenly I realized how very fragile is our intrusion on the land.
We try to be prepared for disasters of fire and wind, not flood. But we had been warned. We thought the Big Thompson flood in 1976 was a fluke, created by a single thunderstorm that stood still over the canyon for four hours and dropped 13 inches of rain. This year’s flood killed 10 people; the Big Thompson killed 144. But we had more time in this flood to evacuate. Either thing could happen again. Both recent history and geologic evidence suggest that it will.
We have had some very bad weather events in the past couple of years. Given that and the destruction caused by beetles and the ongoing threat of fire, we may be forgiven for being a little skeptical about the immediate future of our mountains. Of course they will abide, but the question is, can we?
The Affordable Care Act
I suspect many of us in our mountains don’t know that our property taxes pay for Estes Park Schools. Our valley is part of the Estes Park School District. Nearly all of us don’t have children in school in Estes Park.
Still, I doubt that many landowners here want to protest, stage demonstrations or file lawsuits to stop paying taxes for the schools. Most of us think public education is a good idea and that everyone, even the childless, should help pay for public education. Even those with children in private school may grumble about paying twice, and still they don’t attempt to stop the practice.
Our taxes pay for many things not all of us use. I’ve never used a prison, but I don’t mind paying for them. There are loads of roads we never use, but we pay to maintain them because they’re all for the common good. It’s quite a list.
The Affordable Care Act requires the provision of contraception and a great many people have a great many reasons for litigation to prevent paying for contraception. One of their reasons is that they don’t need it. True, they may not need it. The question is whether access to contraception should be available, like public education, to everyone. Unless you believe that our species should not limit our population in the face of climate change, a limited supply of fresh water and food and natural resources, contraception availability is a good idea.
The Catholic doctrine, promulgated by a church hierarchy to provide more church members, isn’t in the bible. Jesus didn’t say anything about contraception. The doctrine was laid down in 1575 when the world population was some 700 million. Today India and China have 2.5 billion and the world has almost 7 billion. By 2042 we can expect 9 billion. The growth rate reached 2% in the late 1960s and is currently at 1.4%. Awareness of the numbers and the use of contraception have resulted in the lowering of the growth rate. Still, 9 billion is a lot of people to feed, clothe, educate, and care for.
We have seen a microcosm of the problem here in populations like beaver, marmots, even miller moths, mice and voles. The populations rise until they crash. But we are smarter than that. People and countries recognize the danger in over-population and many people and some countries, are using contraception. We have the knowledge needed to control our destiny.
Do we need to educate our children? Do we need to provide contraception for those who want it? Do we need to provide it for those who need it even if we don’t? Is it in all of our best interests? Unlike the lower animals, not only can we pose those questions, we can answer them.
Going to Pot
Most people thought amending Colorado’s constitution to permit the sale of recreational marijuana was about the freedom to use a less dangerous mind-altering drug than alcohol. But it turns out to be all about money.
Here in our mountains we have a long history of marijuana use. In the 70s it was easily available. My good friend and postmaster, Otto Walter, enjoyed a toke now and then, as did many others who were present at the creation of the Wind 40 years ago. I might have joined them, but I was on active duty with the Air Force and took no chances with any drugs. I was not privy to the ways in which it was obtained, whether bought or grown, so I have no idea whether there was much cost involved, but I doubt it, because most residents didn’t have very much disposable income. But a Rocky Mountain High has been with us longer than John Denver’s song.
Not surprisingly, there have been gloomy predictions about the evil influence of legalized pot. Stoned drivers crashing, peddling to 5th graders, addiction leading straight to cocaine, heroin and death. But the evidence supporting the notion of marijuana as an inevitable gateway drug is very thin indeed. Like most things in life moderation is the key. Marijuana poses far less of a threat to public safety than an alcoholic behind the wheel of a car.
The writers of the amendment, most of whom have never ingested marijuana, may have erred in taxing recreational weed so heavily. Colorado has a little over 100,000 registered medical marijuana users. They pay nothing beyond state and local sales taxes and the majority of them don’t have valid medical problems. For $100 they can visit a physician who will write a prescription for almost any adult. The registration is good for one year.
California has, by far, the most users, estimated at more than half a million. The actual number isn’t known because registration in California is voluntary, the only state where that is the case.
Recreational marijuana is taxed at about 30%, depending on the locale or about $8.50 on $30 for an eighth of an ounce. Initially, the estimate was that $67 million a year in taxes would go to cities and the state, but after just two months that estimate has risen to over $130 million. It remains to be seen whether the high tax rate will keep the black market alive, but surrounding states are well aware that their residents are coming to Colorado to buy and add to Colorado’s tax windfall. New Mexico is already in line to put marijuana on the ballot, and the surrounding states won’t be far behind as a lucrative tax source is so appealing. Given the simple monetary motive, a great many states will probably be voting on it in the next ten years.
Colorado allows adults to grow their own, up to six plants per person. There’s a catch, however, because they may not be grown outdoors, but only under lock and key. An indoor setup will cost about $1,000 and the results may not be sold. Probably few will go to the trouble, but marijuana shops sell seeds and plants. Some will grow their own because they know buying is still breaking federal law. Washington though, is all about money and the Congress is already missing its share of the tax bonanza.
There are those who hoped that high taxes would discourage use, but that has not proven true. Like tobacco and alcohol, high taxes on marijuana will have very little influence on usage. Medical marijuana users paying only the local sales tax will probably continue to renew their registrations.
In the 70s, my friends enjoyed breaking the law. That was part of the rebellion that brought them to our mountains. I wonder if they would have enjoyed it as much if it had been legal.
Gentle readers who haven’t traveled the 21 miles of US Highway 36 from Boulder to Denver this past winter are in for an unpleasant surprise this summer.
When it was built in 1951 and opened in 1952 nobody called it Highway 36. It was a toll road and one of the first four-lane highways in the state. It was dubbed the Boulder Turnpike and many of us still think of it that way even though the 25¢ toll was eliminated in 1967, 13 years ahead of its forecast.
This year it's being massively rebuilt and multi-modal repurposed, with express toll lanes whose tolls haven’t been publicized, lanes for bicycles, and express lanes serving a dozen bus/rapid transit stations. But the big and most controversial news was that the road’s tolls will go to a private company, actually a consortium of six companies aptly named Plenary Roads Denver, probably soon to be known as PRD. The company will be responsible for the road’s maintenance for 50 years.
The announcement that private enterprise would get the tolls and do the maintenance caught people by surprise and there were a number of town meetings and protests. But this kind of arrangement is becoming common all over the country and we can look for the same arrangement on I-70. We already have six toll roads in Colorado including I-25 as it becomes more difficult to use taxes for big, high maintenance roads. When the Turnpike is finally overhauled sometime next year daily traffic will approach 120,000 vehicles every day. Meanwhile the road is open but a mess as the construction moves lanes from day to day and a wreck can result in very long delays.
We are going to be travel challenged for at least another year, as the canyon roads are being repaired and a trip to Denver is going to rival the time it took in the 1940’s when a trip to Denver via Lyons, Hygiene, Longmont and US 287 south to Denver took a long summer’s day to accomplish.
Some readers may remember a solitary grave on the south side at the point where the toll booths used to be. For 14 years a stray dog named Shep and cared for by the toll takers at the booths in Broomfield greeted drivers. When he died in 1964 a tombstone and fence were provided and was visible to drivers until a few years ago when plans were made to replace the Wadsworth Bridge. "Shep, 1950-1964, Part shepherd--Mostly affection." The grave was moved in 2009 to the currently being renovated Broomfield Depot Museum on 10th Street in Broomfield, three blocks west of 287.
Thanks to technology, toll booths can now be seen only in old movies and we don’t need to keep toll money in the car.
A couple of years ago the road from Lyons to Longmont was renewed. The Foothills Highway, Colorado 7, will eventually become a four lane highway, so we can look forward to that piece of construction and express lane tolls.
Those of us who have been here for more than half a century have seen many changes, most of them of our own doing, some the work of Nature. It is the one constant in our mountains. For those of us who are here only in the summer we always look for the changes of just a few months and there are always some. Going to Estes Park we always have to walk the streets and hope we will still see McDonald’s and Indian Village. This year even the mountains will have some changes. Mt. Meeker has a new slide at the bottom of the trough, and the North Twin has a scar that will outlive several generations. Such changes make projects like the new Turnpike seem transitory and insignificant. Soon we will be taking the new roads for granted. This summer would be a good time to just relax and enjoy the ride.
The Crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
As a USAF Master Navigator, I flew over the Pacific more than 2,000 hours in the Vietnam era in four-engine jet C-141s and WC-130 turboprops, hauling cargo and people and penetrating the eyes of typhoon 99 times. In the process of navigating 6,200 hours in the days before the Global Positioning System, staying on course, and finding storms and islands, the vastness of the oceans was always on my mind. Reporting our position only once an hour via High Frequency radio that was subject to atmospheric distortions meant that we were always in a 2,000 square mile area of ocean. If we were to go down without reporting our exact latitude and longitude, the odds on our being found in the temperate zone were slim. On NorPac One, the airway from Anchorage to Japan, the odds were none.
Aerial navigation over land during the day is easy. In the early days of flight, planes flew only in good weather and at low altitudes. Night flying was more difficult and flying in clouds required using instruments in the cockpit as well as direction and distance information from the ground. But it took 30 years before long overwater flights were successful because of the difficulty of determining a position over water. Overwater navigators have been very busy from the days of sail until the GPS, as navigation has always been as much an art as science. The Marshall Islanders navigated between islands using the stars, the sun and wind and wave patterns. They taught their children to navigate using charts made of sticks and seashells. The GPS changed all that and made navigators of all kinds nearly obsolete.
I find it remarkable that oceanic position reporting using the GPS is not streamed by satellite. We reported only once an hour because it took that long to get enough meaningful data to be certain of course, fuel and position. Today there is no excuse to not have position, altitude and heading data streamed from every commercial aircraft. And is it possible to record all cockpit conversations instead of only the last two hours? Not only possible but easy and inexpensive. Perhaps the loss of MA 370 will result in better tracking.
In this case the IFF radar transponder was turned off. We have only the intermittent engine data and several single LOPs (Lines of Position) from a satellite 22 miles up. That LOP, like all such, is actually a huge circle and it only tells us that the aircraft was somewhere on that circular line. We know, because of the amount of fuel on board, that the LOP can only be the length of perhaps six hours of flight but the rest of the flight may not have been along that line. The possible area is huge, all of it over water.
At least two LOPs, preferably at 90 degrees, were needed in order to get a position: sun, stars, Long Range Navigation (LORAN) ground waves, a low frequency radio beacon, each providing a single LOP. Amelia Earhart had the same problem: her radio direction finder didn’t work. All she had was a single sun LOP shot by her navigator, resulting in an LOP (similar to the one obtained for MA 370) running north and south through Howland Island, but she had a 50/50 chance, turning right or turning left, to follow the line that would bring her Electra to safety if the LOP was correct. She (and her navigator) made the wrong choice. One LOP isn’t enough. Today’s GPS has 32 satellites that provide many LOPs for continuous exact positioning.
It may happen that some MA 370 wreckage will be found floating on the surface of the ocean. However once again that will be a single position with 360 degrees and many thousands of square miles to guess where the wreckage came from. Even if the recorders are found they probably will not tell us why the aircraft was lost but only provide information about its courses, speeds and altitudes. The voice recorder may be silent. If our species lives long enough and technology is willing, some sea explorer may eventually find the recorders, but the odds on finding them or the aircraft, ever, are prohibitive.
Aging and Long Term Care
A new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll shows that Americans are generally positive about their experiences providing long-term care for family and friends. Almost half is care for a mother. Only 17% is for a father and only 14% is for a spouse or partner. But only 40% of Americans have discussed preferences for kinds of living assistance with friends and family.
Long-term care is something we don’t like to contemplate or plan for, but people don’t drop dead as often as they used to. We are living longer, but in 2010 75% of Americans nearing retirement age had less than $30,000 in their retirement accounts. Six out of ten Americans think the government should administer a long-term care insurance program. But the elephant in the room is the cost and quality of nursing home care.
In 2008 my mother had to enter a nursing home at the age of 100. In the next three years her care cost $7000 a month and she did not have insurance. Furthermore, in the last year of her life her quality of life was severely diminished. Her nursing home was part of a retirement community and the quality of care was above average. Still, most nursing homes are just expensive warehouses for the dying.
Mary and I purchased long-term care insurance for her in 1999 and even though we paid more than $40,000 dollars for it over the next 13 years, and she had a stroke in 2001 that disabled her, we never used the insurance. Instead, like the majority of Americans in this situation, I became the sole long-term care provider. Only 32% think they will personally be responsible for care, but in practice one in four adults were unpaid family caregivers in 2009. About two-thirds are women and 14% who care for older adults are themselves older than 65. The latter describes me. I became cook, transporter, cleaner, dresser, laundry and ironing person, bookkeeper and so on and I was at retirement age. Mary, a Registered Nurse specializing in labor and delivery, after her retirement had been very active studying geriatrics, both locally and on the Colorado State Commission on Aging. Still, there were some unpleasant surprises.
In the 13 years following her stroke Mary was hospitalized four times, was in rehabilitation three times both an in-patient and out-patient, had two serious surgeries, had three different powered wheel chairs, and was twice, briefly, in a nursing home. The last time, the stress of the experience resulted in my own hospitalization because I felt the quality of care she was receiving was not as good as the care I gave her. This, even though we were better prepared than most and we had, as a result of our military experience, the best medical care available through Medicare and the military Tricare for Life programs.
Before Mary had a stroke, I was an ombudsman in three assisted living facilities in Longmont. I saw the nursing home environment in a number of Boulder County facilities and I knew I would do anything I could to keep Mary from spending the rest of her life in one. It was a lot of work, but I did it, like millions of other Americans who take pride in caring for someone they love.
Many friends have expressed their admiration for what I did, but I did it because, like millions of others, I wanted to, not because I had to. I could have used the long-term care insurance and put her in a nursing home, but for me it was not a choice. Most of us want to die in our own homes, in our own beds, with our families. Thousands of us turn 65 every day and have to come to terms with the knowledge that our country does not have a system that meets aging and long-term needs.
1990 was the last time I wrote about a big invasion of Miller moths, the flying version of the Army cutworm.. This year Whitney Cranshaw, an entomologist at CSU says “Right around here, Denver, Boulder, you should see more than you’ve seen in several years.” The reason they’re so bothersome to us is because of their method of navigation, which apparently uses bright stars or the moon to guide them from their original habitat in eastern Colorado and Kansas to their destination in the front range of the Rockies, which is your house and mine. When we turn on the lights, the moths go berserk, as does my cat. They make a mess on our windows and our ceilings and bother us when we try to read at night, and crunch when we step on them. They really are simply not one of the best features of a summer in the mountains. “This is the only migrating moth we have here in the U.S.” says Cranshaw. Aren’t we lucky? Millers feed on flowers and with all the moisture we’ve had this year this is a good year for flowers.”
For the past few years we’ve had just a handful about this time of year. A recent story about Millers suggested a bowl of soapy water under a lamp as “a creative solution.” Nothing of the sort. It was the standard practice around here when most cabins were, shall we say, more drafty than they are today.
Back in the dark ages of the late 40s and 50s, when our little cabin had holes you could see through even on a cloudy day, we usually arrived about the 29th of June, which meant we were in time for my father’s birthday on the 1st of July, followed by plenty of fireworks on the 4th. And it also meant Miller time, when that phrase had nothing to do with beer.
In the evening, when we lit our kerosene lamps, the Millers would swarm and we would set out the speckled gray enameled dishpan (the one with the chip at the hole where it hung on the nail) filled with soapy water. In droves, the Millers would fly around the light, each eventually dropping into the pan with a little hiss as it hit the bubbles. It seemed strange to me that they flew with such fury and struggled so little once they hit the soap bubbles, almost as though it were a relief. According to CSU entomolgists, that may indeed be the case, since artificial light seems to confuse the nocturnal navigation system these moths have been using for many millennia.
There are other methods of dealing with Millers, old and new. My father used to catch them in his hand and throw them against any convenient wall, but he didn’t have to sweep them up. Fly swatters usually result in a pretty awful mess, and it takes a pretty good lick to kill, rather than simply stun, one. Using a bug bomb works, but it’s too slow. One article in the paper suggested putting out the lights in the house and using a flashlight to lead them outdoors, like the Pied Piper. I haven’t tried that method, but I doubt that it works very well.
The entomologists don’t have an explanation for the flight from the east to our mountains. It’s just something the moths do. And this year, because of a very wet and mild spring, there are many more than we’ve seen in recent years. Fortunately, although the Army cutworm lives for a year, in its flying form it lives just one or two weeks before it dies. As you read this, some of which I wrote in 1990, the Great Miller Invasion of 2014 may be underway or just a memory.
As for why they come here, it might be the same reason so many others from that part of the country come here -- the great views and the cool, cleaner air. And besides, if you had just two weeks to live, where would you want to be?
Our Gold Rush
It’s not hard to figure out what Alonzo Allen was thinking 150 years ago. Gold. Colorado had its own gold rush in 1859 and Alonzo was one of many who left their families east of the Mississippi, promising to return when they struck it rich. But by 1864 Alonzo had almost given up his quest to strike it rich and had settled on the St. Vrain near Longmont.
Why he decided it would be a good idea to raise cattle on a meadow at more than 8,500 feet is a mystery. But he did build a cabin, now the site of an archeological dig, in 1864. Probably he was hedging his bet with the cattle while he continued to look for gold. His dream died with Alonzo in 1894, the same year his cabin burned down.
The search for gold had a resurgence at the turn of the century with the locally famed Clara Belle Mining and Reduction Company. There are a number of old mines scattered in our mountains, but fool’s gold is all they ever found. George Mack founded the town in 1896. Allenspark is actually just 118 years old. Still, we can be grateful to Alonzo and celebrate giving his name to the place, originally Allens Park, 150 years ago.
We’re fortunate that all those who spent part of their lives looking for gold didn’t find any. What would Tahosa Valley look like today if gold had been found? Nothing like it looks today.
What would it look like if the modern day equivalent of a gold rush were to take place here? For starters we’d be concerned about hydraulic fracturing. The only fracturing we’ve known is in our water wells. We’ve been spared having drill rigs and the still controversial proprietary mixtures used in fracking, as well as the scars on the landscape. Fracturing has been around for a long time, but the concept of horizontal drilling is relatively new. The oil and gas industries have mounted extensive and expensive advertising and lobbying campaigns to enable them to squeeze the last vestiges of oil and gas from the ground. They proudly point to the increase in the number jobs created by the new technology. Only rarely do we hear anyone say that the jobs are temporary, but when it’s all gone, the jobs will be gone as well. Meanwhile the search for sufficient renewable energy to replace coal, gas and oil has stalled.
We don’t have any coal, either, but the damage burning coal creates along with car and truck exhaust and dust from farm activities is evident in our air. Research by the National Park Service shows that pollution is 60% higher than the ecosystem can sustain. According to Boulder County’s website, 20 years of air and water samples are showing that species are less diverse because of increasing nitrogen levels in rain, acidifying streams and soils. There is a shift from wildflowers to grasses, high concentrations of ground level ozone and increasingly poor visibility.
Some of our electricity is hydroelectric, but 80% of it is from coal and natural gas. When Alonzo was here he had no electricity and one can wonder what he would think about our ability to just plug lights in while he had to make do with tallow candles and kerosene. He died 25 years before households were transformed by electricity. Hundreds of years of beating rugs to get them clean ended in our country with the vacuum cleaner.
Electricity made it possible for Everyman to be warmer, cleaner and more comfortable than any emperor in history. But the means to create electricity has created a bill that future generations will have to pay. It’s going to be a big bill. Unlike Alonzo, more than 500 of us can be warm, clean and comfortable through the winter. Alonzo would consider that to be magical but it is technological magic. How much longer will we be able to pull the electric rabbit out of our hat?
We Have Moose!
The moose population in our mountains is growing. Twelve moose were introduced to the state in 1978 and today there are more than 1,000. We have at least six in Tahosa Valley. I photographed four of them on my property on July 25th as they stripped the leaves from young aspens in my front yard.
We are getting used to having them around and we are learning about palmate antlers and the habits of these unusual creatures. We have also been warned about how dangerous they can be.
My first association with moose was almost a run-in. I was in Alaska in the winter clearing fog from Elmendorf Air Force Base in 1970. Driving in the dark we often found moose standing in the road. Just the other day at Wind River Pass a huge bull elk (which by the way is what moose are known as in Europe) ran just in front of my truck. I had to slam on the brakes, just missed him and another bull ran across the road behind me.
When I got over the adrenaline rush I was reminded of how different these two animals are. A moose believes it owns the road. In Alaska we had to stop the car because the moose refused to move. I said we ought to drive up slowly and it would move. But the people who were permanently stationed there just laughed. “If we do that we’re going to have a dead moose and a banged up vehicle. Moose aren’t afraid of anything. We kill a lot of moose every year because the face down trains.”
Moose have enemies: wolves, bears and humans. We don’t have wolves here and our black bears want nothing to do with an adult moose. We are still a danger to them, but you aren’t going to find moose on the menu at the Fawn Brook unless it involves chocolate. A full grown moose, although it looks slow and placid, can weigh 1200 pounds and is very fleet of foot. Top speed is 35 mph and a sustainable speed of 20.
Moose aren’t herd animals like elk. A cow will have a calf every other year, but the bull will ignore her and the calves. The cows give birth in May and only two out of ten survive the first year. The odds against all three of our current triplets surviving the winter are very high. But they are in an area without many predators and a relatively mild winter. Their diet consists of aquatic and terrestrial vegetation and an adult moose may consume 30 or 40 pounds a day. During the winter moose lose weight because food is very scarce. Such fluctuations are hard on any animal and the result is that they live between 15 and 25 years.
The bulls have shorter lives, as much of their energy goes into their antlers, which is how, like our elk, they acquire cows in September and October. Bull moose dig a little pit with their hooves during the rut, urinate in it, then roll in it. The cows find this behavior very exciting.
Moose are aquatic animals, never far from water. They can close their noses so they can eat under water for 30 seconds at a time.
My experience with moose in Alaska, plus all we’ve heard about cows and their calves meant that I was more than 100 feet from this cow and her calves and behaving myself. While she never looked at me directly, it was clear to me that she knew I was there. All I could think of at the time was how difficult the birth must have been: 90 pounds of calves.
How the rest of our wildlife may be affected by the presence of moose is unknown. Some have speculated that the moose diet is much the same as our elk. Will one species push another out because of the competition for food? We don’t know. What is certain is that our moose population is growing and is attracting more tourists. How many moose can our mountains support? We are going to find out.
Edward A, Steiner’s Paradise
My grandfather was 52 when he first saw the property on Big Owl Road in 1917 and he had a great deal on his mind. Born in a small town in the Carpathian mountains, he was concerned about the many Europeans he knew. He had written more than a dozen books on immigration and was a frequent Chautauqua lecturer. He had been a Congregational minister and now was a pacifist professor at Grinnell college in Iowa. He had a German accent and reminded Americans that not all Germans were warmongers. That attitude toward America’s troops being sent to Europe was of some concern on the part of the president of the college who thought it prudent to send him away from Iowa for the summer.
There had been some rumors that he was somehow connected and sympathetic to the German cause. Teaching for the summer at Colorado State Teachers College, on a weekend he came to the Columbine Lodge and learned of property for sale two miles to the south. He walked, and when he came to the property, saw the little cabin by the stream, only recently homesteaded and proved up, he knew it was a special place, like nothing he seen in all his far flung travels across the globe. The place seemed to be what he would often call a paradise. It would become a place where he could write without distractions and entertain many of his Chautauqua friends when they lectured in Boulder and where some of his colleagues would buy nearby properties when he told them of the peaceful, quiet, inspiring beauty of our mountains.
As the years went by the quiet was increasingly disturbed as cars became more common and access to the valley became easier and less expensive. Many of the noises we accept as part of the summer include motorcycles, construction, sirens, aircraft and more. To duplicate today what Edward did not hear almost a hundred years ago we can listen, albeit briefly, the morning after a significant snowfall in the dead of winter. The peace and quiet he treasured in the summer is gone, even in the small hours of a summer night.
In the years since Edward discovered his paradise there have been many more intrusions into the peace and quiet, the clean air he and his guests breathed, the view of the stars, the many new roads, cabins, houses, electricity, that double-edged sword that made our lives easier and less dangerous, but bringing radio, television, lights that dim the stars and loud music that annoys our neighbors.
Edward’s summers were marked by visits with neighbors. Without telephones those visits were arranged with notes on mailboxes and shouts announcing visits to provide a moment to prepare. Civility, courtesy and a certain formality were the unspoken rules. Men wore coats and ties when visiting. Parasols shielded women from the sun. Firewood was easily available, but Edward wore a vest and tie when he picked up his saw. Quiet afternoons on the screened porch with reading and tea with visitors were the norm rather than the exception.
These days we rarely see our neighbors. We wave at each other as we pass on the roads, but the technology to do many more things has made us more isolated rather than more connected. We spend more time communicating with people hundreds or thousands of miles away than with our next-door neighbors. We pay less attention to how we affect our neighbors than we probably should, seemingly unaware that the things we do have any affect on those just across the property line.
Everyone who lives here all year or who stays only in the summer has an agenda and those agendas vary widely. Some have packed schedules and some just want to sit on the porch, read and watch the hummingbirds. It’s useless to mourn the good old days of tea and conversation. They aren’t coming back. Still, we can look at our agenda to make sure all of us can enjoy what is still our paradise.
Living in a rural enclave has pluses and minuses. True, many of us don’t have access to decent broadband. But our crime rate is pretty good. When it comes to road repair we’re at the end of the line. But traffic, including caravans of various car nuts and creeping RVs, is less than our neighbors to the north.
Had enough of political advertising this year? Too bad. It will be even worse for the next two years as monetary “free” speech will clog the airways, much of it calculated to make us fear the dreaded politicians determined to destroy not only our way of life but our country, which must be taken back because it has been stolen by one party or another. It’s fear of almost everything that seems to rule us. Years ago it was fluoride. The Red Menace. Then there was alar on apples and panic in the streets. When things calmed down we found that alar is one of a number of synthetic compounds that might be carcinogenic, but not quite like arsenic and no deaths have been attributed to it.
Today we have Ebola and the handful of cases in our country is a story with legs that can sell more expensive advertising spots while fewer than 8.333X10−5% of us have contracted the disease and we are unlikely to have many more. Out of 6+ billion of us, fewer than 5,000 have died. Is it possible that the virus may evolve into something that could be transmitted through the air? Yes, it’s possible. Many of the little critters we don’t like that have been treated with antibiotics have evolved and are now resistant, mostly because of over prescription.
For thousands of years the planet has been warning us with one plague or another that too much of any species will trigger a mechanism to balance the life forces. Because we’re smarter than any other creature so far resident we’ve been able to overcome the planet’s effort to limit our growth. Efforts to control malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS and many diseases preventable by vaccination have allowed our numbers to explode. At the same time we have forced thousands of species into extinction and a recent forecast claims that half of all species alive today will be extinct by 2050.
Dr. Ezekiel Emanual, one of the architects of the Affordable Care Act, says that living as long as we do now: “We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.” But eliminating everyone over 75 would not solve the problem of overpopulation.
I’m older than 75 and I take a number of pills that help keep me alive. I do worry about becoming a burden to my children and society. I often characterize myself these days as old and feeble, but in truth I’m only old. For the moment. Unless I drop dead feebleness is in my future. The only question is when. Meanwhile I consume and it’s true that I use far more than I produce and that is at the heart of our species’ future.
The more we prolong our lives the more the planet is bound to try to do away with us, just as it has always done. We have seen it here in microcosm as populations of wildlife ebb and flow and sometimes disappear. We are just another form of wildlife and unless we’re smart enough to control our numbers the planet is bound to do it to us. Ebola is not going to wipe us out. We will keep it from spreading widely in our country. Others without the kind of isolation we can provide will suffer and die. But like earthquakes, drought, flood, and viruses like Ebola, the planet is telling us that we have too many of our species and the vast ecosystem of our world will see to it that our temporary supremacy, as with so many dominant species before us, is just that: temporary.
In 2001 a great many people thought we should do everything we could to get information from suspected terrorists. The end, we thought, justified the means. We lost 3,000 people and in the ensuing 13 years 6,802 Americans died in Iraq and Afghanistan in wars that searched for weapons of mass destruction and Osama bin Laden . There were no WMDs and bin Laden went to Pakistan. Later figures aren’t available. The value of what was obtained is questionable.
We captured suspected terrorists and used enhanced interrogation techniques, a euphemism for torture, and not just simulated drowning, but many other techniques equally inhumane. Torture is a cowardly admission that a combatant isn’t able to get information by any other means. The recent report of the CIA’s methods comes as a shock to many but there are also many who continue to believe that torture works even though more than 100 prisoners died in our custody by 2005. Later figures aren’t available.
Every branch of American military service tries to prepare troops for the possibility that they may be lost at sea or captured. Our survival schools train troops to escape and evade and survive in many places and climes. In 1972 I went through the Air Force’s basic survival training at Spokane, Washington. The training included escape and evasion techniques, solitary confinement and confinement in a box so small that movement was impossible. We also learned about interrogation techniques currently in use based on prior wars. I then went through sea survival training in Florida and jungle survival training in the Philippines. All of my training was based on recent past wars. Waterboard training probably is currently in the curriculum. It would be foolish not to include it simply because our enemies know that we used it. It’s now part of what any prisoner can expect and will surely be used against us at the earliest opportunity.
I spent a year in Southeast Asia flying unarmed 1930s designed aircraft at 10,000 feet over Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The squadron lost some aircraft and there were no survivors. Other missions survivors were tortured and some died, but the North Vietnamese knew their prisoners were too valuable to kill outright. It was in their interests to keep the men alive. They could bargain using live prisoners. They were right.
How did this happen? Why did we ignore the lessons of the past and in the process pave the way for torture of Americans in future wars? We sent 2.6 million troops to these two wars. As of the end of last year more than 900,000 service men and women had been treated at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics since returning Iraq and Afghanistan. Going to war is as easy as saying that a government we don’t like has weapons of mass destruction. This from a government with more WMDs than any other. It’s as easy as invading a country for 13 years based on looking for one man who wasn’t there. He escaped to Pakistan, living next to the Pakistan Military Academy. He’s dead and our troops still face the possibility of capture or death in the war zones.
Edwin Starr’s song “War” (What is it good for? Absolutely nothin’) became popular as the Vietnam War was being exposed as unwinnable in 1970. But the song is wrong. War makes many people rich. Profits go to a broad spectrum of Americans: politicians, weapons makers, oil companies, any company involved in the support of war. The end of these wars is one of the reasons gasoline costs us less at the pump today and is expected to be low in 2015. Unless we get into another war.
We hear “This isn’t what we are,” but to the rest of the world, this is exactly what we are: the most powerful and arrogant country on the planet. We can blame lots of people in Washington, the CIA, the NSA and Congress, but all of us are responsible.
© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner
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