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The Visit of Pope John Paul II
Not too long ago I wrote about what strange people we are, and that many of us seem to take great pleasure in not getting along with one another. But I did not fully understand the extent of our xenophobia until last month, when the Pope came to share with us the great beauty of our little valley.
In case you missed it, a number of people got together and came up with the idea of forming a group of what might be called vigilantes, although they called it an extension of the Neighborhood Watch Group, whatever that is. Big Brother, perhaps? Just to be clear, a vigilante is a member of a vigilance committee, which is “a committee of citizens organized to suppress crime summarily when the processes of law appear inadequate.” “Appear” is the operative word here.
This vigilance committee took three meetings to produce a badly done flyer with a number of errors and misspellings worthy of an issue of the WIND, although I don’t think we’ve ever misspelled Covenant Heights as “Covanat,” or called Coyote Hill “Coyote Ridge.” They sliced up our valley into “quads” (Quadrants, of course, refer to divisions of four and here there were nine “quads” mysteriously all of them in Boulder County, but I do love it when men get together and talk “military”) and listed the people who would provide “a friendly face and a helping hand” (presumably only to property owners, as they promised to deal with “unwanted campers on your property, etc.”) which I suppose means to show up with pitchforks and pikes or perhaps shotguns and MAC 11s and tell people to get the hell out before they do something drastic. My little piece of unfenced, ungated, unguarded property was in quad #1, clearly the hottest quadrant in the galaxy, commanded by Mr. Allen Osborne.
Twenty two men (of course, since vigilantism is clearly a man’s work) signed on to help toss foreigners off our hallowed (you should excuse the expression) ground. They also offered some “suggestions you may find useful,” and here they are: 1) “Additional ‘private property’ signs” (we have far too few), 2) “Close your gate or hang a chain across the entrance to your property” (or circle the wagons), 3) Have extra water or fire extinguishers handy (the extra water, I suppose, is in case the foreigners laid siege, and the fire extinguishers? Well, the foreigners probably want to burn the place down), 4) Check water hoses for proper operation and have them attached to the appropriate outlets on your house (but you will have to stand guard or the foreigners will surely steal them), and 5) Be a good watchful neighbor, especially during this time (and call the vigilantes if you spot a wandering Catholic).
As you know by now, the day passed uneventfully, one might even say peacefully, and I didn’t have to call Mr. Osborne to save me from rampaging unwanted campers, etc. Sheriff George Epp was quoted as saying the worst problem he had was minor intrusions of a few people who wandered inadvertently into the perimeter, among them “…just little old ladies in the woods.” That was Phyllis Zumwinkel and two guests, and I have no comment on the characterization. Fortunately, they were found by sheriff’s deputies before the vigilantes attacked.
Our Fire Department volunteers sat around all day and pronounced themselves bored. I saw many driveways with chains across them or rocks or logs and many signs warning of the punishment that awaited trespassers. The vigilantes had produced No Trespassing signs that warned, “Those who disregard this advisement may be subject to arrest and prosecution.” One driveway had a chain and rocks and logs, and a bucket of something heavy in the driveway. By coincidence it also had a sheriff’s vehicle and two officers parked in front of it the entire day. It’s sad to see someone so fearful of...what? If you were one of those who put logs or rocks or chains across your driveway or put up signs to keep out the marauding hordes of Catholics as a result of this piece of galloping paranoia why aren’t you ashamed of yourself?
Oh, they closed Highway 7 for about 20 minutes, when John Paul II (who is 73 years old and had a pretty tough week) walked a quarter of a mile down the middle of the highway to shake hands and talk with the 25 or so good and gentle people who had quietly and patiently waited all day for just a glimpse of him. Probably the vast majority of those who had to detour down my road had no idea why they had been inconvenienced. The result was a few more cars than usual on Big Owl Road, but they weren’t the usual group of lost gamblers going to or coming from Central City, who toss beer bottles out of their car windows and stop to relieve themselves in the bushes along the road.
This group’s xenophobic display of distrust and suspicion proves once more that some of us have a vastly inflated sense of our importance on this planet, in this country and in our valley. One person named on this flyer was heard to announce that “Ten percent of all the law enforcement people in Colorado will be in Allenspark. We’re important!” People like that truly believe this is “our property,” whether we bought it last year or it’s been in our family since way back in 1900, and that we need a self-appointed gang of grown men acting like children, crashing through the underbrush to protect what is “ours.”
If you believe that, I have news for you: we’re just caretakers here. What you think is “our property” will be here long after you and I and all your heirs and mine are long gone and forgotten. We are fortunate indeed to be alive and here and able to share this glorious place. On August 13 one of the few people in this beautiful valley who truly understood that was Pope John Paul II.
© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner
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