Occasional observations

A sort of big river and a small state

We drove northeast from Denver in a more-or-less northeast straight line, crossing the South Platte River soon after our launch, our intentions being to see the prairie  in uncommon greenery. The northeastern part of the state is almost entirely out of drought. This was evident in the highway medians, of an Irish hue in a way that you rarely see. I’ll return to Denver in this brief travel memoir, but not in a way you might expect.

The Platte River more leisurely wanders northward to Greeley before looping eastward. We caught up with it at Fort Morgan, the town of my origin, and I decided to explore a new route, for me, driving along its north side. It was wonderfully rural, exactly what we had intended, the expedience and impatience of the interstate traveled hidden by the trees along the river bottom and several miles. We followed the river, now veering northward again, in this way until we crossed it to reach Hillrose. There, under the leaden skies, the river looked almost big. It’s been that kind of snowy, rainy spring.

I told Cathy about the snapping turtle I saw one time just downstream at Union during my railroading days and of the lunch I had eaten in the town park of Hillrose with a co-worker who, I read years later, was killed while walking across a Denver street. I also told her that in my youth, during the 1960s, one of the state legislative leaders was from Hillrose. In those years, just as many legislators likely came from farm and ranch country as came from cities or  their suburbs.

The name of the legislator was Ted Gill, and much later, in the 1990s, when I began using a computer program called Quark to put together the Vail Valley Times, I noted that the software entrepreneur who created Quark was also named Gill. Tim Gill. He was from Denver. For years, I wondered if there was a connection.

Indeed, there was and is. Tim Gill, the software engineer who had grown rich, was the grandson of Ted Gill, the legislator from the farm and ranch country. Their link —Ted’s son and Tim’s father —was a  physician or perhaps it was a surgeon in Lakewood.

Tim Gill bought a place in Aspen and, as a gay man, founded the Gill Foundation in 1994. The foundation describes itself as the “nation’s leading funders of efforts to secure full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.”

Colorado is a big state, eighth largest among the 50, and in population, becoming bigger, now 5.9 million, compared to the 1 million at the time of my birth. But in other ways, it continues to be one big small town. — Allen Best, May 17, 2021 

In photography as in politics, everything depends upon framing and perspective  

Earlier this week I was getting a photograph when I happened across a scene that warmed my heart: grass at water’s edge. But, of course, you already know that the story here is not of untrammeled beauty of nature, but rather of framing and perspective.

The same site photographed from a different direction and with a different lens shows a much different scene: a chain link fence, giant concrete pipe segments and a sand pile. In photography as in politics, all depends upon framing and perspective.

All of this is near an interstate highway on one side, cars trying their darndest to be noxious (and mostly succeeding).

There’s also a bit of history here. This site at the confluence of Ralston Creek with Clear Creek is called Gold Strike Park, because gold was discovered here in 1850. A band of Georgians headed toward California paused here, and one of them, Lewis Ralston, panned and came up with $5 in gold. Despite this, they continued westward. The Georgians returned in 1858 to explore the waters of the South Platte and its tributaries—finding enough gold to spark the gold rush that resulted in the new state of Colorado in 1876. —Allen Best, May 15, 2021

 

Two steps forward then it’s back we go  

When I was growing up, in Fort Morgan, a town on the eastern plains of Colorado then of 7,300 people, we took pride in leaving on our porch lights at night. The city called itself the “City of Lights.” I thought nothing of it at the time, but I wonder if that slogan wasn’t a relic of the time, in the mid-20th century. Only a few decades before, use of electric lights might have been seen as a sign of affluence. 

The porch lights then were probably 60-watt bulbs usually shielded. I’m sure there were light bulbs with more wattage, but to what purpose? Too, there was the issue of money. The city, which was the utility, claimed that it did not charge for the electricity used to power the porch lights, but in fact, I’m guessing that cost was a consideration. I know it was in my household. My parents squeezed a nickel pretty hard. They had to.

This came to mind tonight while on my late-night walk. I walk then because it’s safer, as there are fewer cars, and because the air quality is better, at least sometimes. Plus, I’m a night owl.

These nocturnal walks also cause me to see the garishness of lights. It’s not every house, or ever street. But there are a lot of very bright lights in front yards, side yards, back yards. Blinding lights, obnoxious lights, lights that I am sure violate the code of the city where I live, except the code is probably not enforced unless somebody wants to make a stink about it.  Most of us, even if we find the lights annoying or worse, will choose to say nothing rather than to risk war with our neighbors.

A few places in the country have enlightened codes and a community norming of attitudes in an effort to protect the night sky. The place that comes to mind is Flagstaff, the city in Arizona which has two observatories. But big cities like Denver? Forget about it.

I see two ironies with these lights. One is that most of them are now LED lights. The technology has evolved to allow us to produce more lumens with less electricity. So, we get more light for no increased cost. More than we need.

The other irony on this is that electricity is, if anything, getting cheaper. That’s because of renewable generation.

So, we’re putting less carbon into the atmosphere, but we can see fewer stars because of the light pollution. Growing up, we could actually see stars in the backyard of that farming town on the Eastern Plains.

Willie Nelson 40 or 50 years ago wrote a song about “The bright  lights of Denver were shining like diamonds, like 10,000 jewels in the sky.” I can guarantee you can’t see 10,000 jewels in the sky of Denver.

Something similar has occurred with noise. Car engineers had the bright idea that we wouldn’t have to actually lock our cars manually. We just push a button. And then, we can double-check but pushing again, and the car will beep, in the case of my 2007 Honda Civic Hybrid. Or, in the case of later models of pickups, honk. Loud. Living on the edge of a commercial area, I hear a daily chorus of honks caused by the simple act of walking away from a pickup.

I want to believe in progress, but sometimes I wonder if it’s two steps forward and one step back. Or maybe it’s two steps forward and two steps back. Hate to sound too cranky, but at time’s it’s three steps back. — Allen Best, May 14, 2021

We were like the creek along which we hiked  

It was a snapshot, and no more, this portfolio of faces, skins, and hair types that we saw walking along Clear Creek from Golden into the first rumples of the Rocky Mountain. Another day might have yielded another impression. What we saw on our Sunday evening stroll, though, was like the creek along which we walked.

The mingling was evident even as we got out of the car, a woman with black hair, a guy with red hair, holding hands as they walked down the path. She was African American, I presume, or at least of dark skin, and he Caucasian, of white skin.  Not far away on the banks of the creek were two females , one with wearing a black cap and gown. I am guessing she was posting for graduation from the nearby Colorado School of Mines. Both photographer and subject had dark skin. As we continued up the trail was a girl, her hair also nappy, walking a dog.

In our hour on the trail were many others, those with skins brown, white, yellow and black, their hair similarly diverse: purple, and brown, blonde and black,  Our ages were divers: old enough for canes,  young enough to be carried around the necks of parents.

The dogs on this path were also disparate: a greyhound, a Chihauhua, and a Welsh corgi. And, I am guessing, some mutts—like my companion and I: she of Irish, German and French descent, and myself mostly German but with an English name.

We were, I am guessing, as one: Americans.

And all this was good, a smile. This is to which we aspire: From the many, one.

In this, we hikers were like Clear Creek as it spills onto the Great Plains, roars with that which so recently was snow  It  originates along the Continental Divide amid 14,000-foot peaks named Evans, Grays and Torreys, from the withering mass of snow and ice once called St. Mary’s Glacier,  from the passes called Loveland, Jones and Berthoud, the latter crossed by a small ditch incised into the landscape in 1906 to ferry water from the Western Slope. From these disparate sources the water mingles, becoming one. — Allen Best, April 25, 2021

Saluting the sun on a walk in the short-grass prairie 

The time of enchantment came after the shooting stopped, the sun dipped over the western horizon and the full moon struggled to be seen through the clouds to the east. Between those dusky glimmers of light  came sights, smells and sounds to be savored.

We were at the Pawnee National Grasslands, one of two such tracts of short-grass prairie in Colorado created in the wake of the Dust Bowl. Pawnee, located northeast of Greeley, was well away from the worst of the dust storms that provoked the Comanche National Grasslands of Bent County. I don’t know why it was chosen, but I suspect that it was because the dryland farming techniques in the two areas were the same.

We drove to Briggsdale then north perhaps a mile, then westward for two or three on what was described as a tour for birding. But walking, while we can, should always be preferred to driving, and so we did. 

The shooting was over a ridge and perhaps a mile or three away. It wasn’t threatening, but it was nearly constant. Were the guns being fired the same type that had been used to kill  10 people at the King Soopers in Boulder just six afternoons before? Perhaps, or not. I don’t know my guns, nor do I particularly  wish to. I do wish I knew the prairelands  of my origin better.

The short-grass of the prairie here in the final days of March was indeed very short, just a mat on the soil. Here and there were the dried and desiccated  remains of a flowering plant. Scattered about were very stubby bushes, less than a foot high. In patches were prickly pear cactus. Everywhere were the prairie pancakes, reminders of the cattle that have replaced bison for nearly a century and a half.  

How much of this landscape was natural, how much altered, perhaps dramatically? I wished for a rangeland scientist in our company, one who could walk us through time and spaces and processes even as we walked with the vague goal of reaching a clump of trees, an exceptional  sight in this treeless prairie. 

The giant snow of two weeks before remained in the gullies. I briefly imagined them being like the giant glaciers of Greenland seen from 10,000 feet altitude.

Turning around, our destination now our car, the sun was down, the shooting ceased. Instead we heard meadowlarks singing, the air fragrant with the smell of moisture from that snowstorm, the melted snow creating the prairie playas that echo the last shout of the sun on the clouds, the moon arising, a direct reflection of the same almighty sources.  In our various ways, coming and going, we were saluting the sun. — Allen Best, March 28, 2021.

Different, innovative—but ultimately just like everywhere else

Over the years I had cause to visit that King Soopers store quite a few times. I was impressed by the interior of the store. I had the feel of a Whole Foods or some other high-end grocery store, not like the King Soopers down the street from me, adequate but no more. 

Of course, it was in Boulder.

I was also impressed by the design fo the parking lot, created in a way to avoid some of the annoyances I commonly see in grocery parking lots. Some th0ught went into it.

Boulder has been a place that in so many ways, ways I mostly admire, was ahead of the curve. My memories of Boulder go back roughly 60 yeas.

Today is a shocking reminder that Boulder is also everywhere. I hope that none of the victims were among my friends and acquaintances. Of course, at some level, we’re all victims. —Allen Best, March 22, 2021

From the sublime to the satisfying on a Saturday afternoon

We wished for a meteorologist as we drove northeast from Denver, the sky sunny but spotted and suffused. At length, I hit on what we were seeing. The moisture in the big snow storm of the previous weekend was passing into the atmosphere through a process called sublimation. It was not pausing to become liquid. It was straight from snow moisture to water vapor. Sort of a slow boil, as Cathy put it. It was sublime. 

Traveling further onto the Great Plains of Colorado, we saw plenty of evidence of a slow boil, a response to the proclamation of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis of March 20 as Meat-Out Day. This particular reaction was at the Washington County Fairgrounds.  

As we got there too late for the free lunch advertised on the hay bales, we ate at Akron’s very class, very affordable restaurant. (I wish Arvada had this place). We didn’t bother to put on a mask for entry, despite the sign on the door. I knew what to expect. Even the hired hands, about half of them, wore their masks around their chins.

A week prior, I wouldn’t have gone in. This was our coming-out dinner, so to speak. My 2-week period after my second shot elapsed the previous evening. I chose the burger steak, baked potato adn side salad, with a slice of cherry pie ala mode.

Facebook that day was full of political statements on this topic, some predictable from the hate-everything crowd. Don’t take this as one from me. I ate beef without apology, but what I have to say is more nuanced. I had written a column before the trip that I  hope will get published by late March. — Allen Best, March 20, 2021 

Two shots and a year after Colorado’s first covid case

We lapped the sun almost precisely in this time between when I got my second covid shot, on the first Friday afternoon in March of 2021, and the first reported covid case in Colorado on the first Friday in March of 2020. I’m still not sure how this has changed me fundamentally, if at all.

That second shot was different in that I could actually feel the slight prick of the needle on my arm. More interesting was the makeup. Nearly all white people, like me, but the age brackets were very different. For my first shop, all were above 65. On the second shot, I was likely the oldest, at age 69. Elsewhere I saw only a the slightest whips of graying or white hair.

On that first Friday in 2020, I was in northwestern Colorado  researching a story about the transition  of coal-dependent communities. A meeting had been held in Craig for a day, and covid had become part of our consciousness enough that the organizers had provided copious cans of disinfectant wipes. But covid still seemed out there, just over the horizon. That Friday morning I had followed the governor to a small rafting outfitter store in Craig. It was interesting. It was just him and the two proprietors—and me, in the background. Then he spent the afternoon at the Hayden Town Hall, listening to miners and union reps and county commissioners.

That afternoon the  first report of covid in Colorado, out of Summit County, was announced. Surely the governor had been alerted before the public announcement. What was he thinking as he listened to all that was important but yet mundane, surely realizing his job was soon to be turned upside down, the job he had signed up for suddenly had very different priorities?

It took awhile for all this to sink in. My last “normal” day was the Sunday after I returned to Denver. I went to a coffee shop to read the New York Times. Looking back, though, it took about 10 more days before Colorado, and the nation, shuddered into a different reality.

We got strange and we got fearful and we got angry. I think it was during May that I posed the question on Facebook about whether a trip to Vail and Eagle County was advisable. I was wondering just how seriously we were taking the governor’s orders to stay close to home. The answers were interesting and, at times, disturbing. People were upset. “No, don’t come here,” was the primary message I heard. Yet, even so, I heard some interesting nuances. One answered that it was best to stay away, but yet excused his own driving about 85 miles to go hunting. The difference? Another professed to have quit driving entirely, as there was a risk of putting somebody else at risk should she need aid. One or two people were just flat-out ugly in their self-righteous anger.

Cathy and I didn’t strictly play by the rules, but we tried to honor the intent. We drove on weekends several times more than an hour from home, happy for the freedom. Even so, we did curtail our comings and goings, for awhile severely so.

Then the rules changed somehow. By early August, we assessed the risks and decided that we could figure out an overnight trip away from home, if we got a motel with a kitchenette. Vail and every other mountain town managed to have extraordinarily busy summers, at least in real estate. And Colorado actually had close to a normal year in its economy.

Now, soon, I will have more or less full immunity, at least to the original and dominant strain of covid. But out of habit, I am still very, very careful about how I remove the morning newspapers from their plastic sacks, this after the strong evidence that almost no transmission of covid has been caused by contact. Some habits will continue.

And I am frankly a fan of zoom meetings. I can mostly hear far better than I can in person at meetings.

Other changes, I’m not sure of. Perhaps those changes will be more easily seen in retrospect, in a year or maybe three. —Allen Best, March 7, 2021

A few words about my favorite word: gadfly

“Your favorite word is in the New York Times today,” my companion, the schoolmarm, said to me at the breakfast table.

I paused, wondering what she was talking about, then replied: “Did they use onomatopoeia?”

That’s a word that means the formation of a word from the sound associated with what is named. Think coo or sizzle or hiss.

Actually, I didn’t know that meaning. I had to look it up. I just like the sound of the word.

“Gadfly,” she said, pointing to the front of a business section of the newspaper. “The gadfly of AWS Isn’t Only Joking,” was the headline. The story was about one Corey Quinn, who devotes his life to watching behemoth Amazon very closely and then stinging it. He also consults with customers of Amazon’s cloud computing to help them save money.

The word wasn’t in the story, nor was it used in the headline of the on-line story that had been posted a week before. And in the Twitter thread that I found, Quinn did not seem to object to being called a gadfly. Instead, he made a joke about the photo with the story, which showed him holding a dog. “I can’t believe the @nytimes is fat-shaming my dog like this.”

Not so when I used the word in a story some years ago. I used gadfly to describe a steady critic of Colorado’s utility. It didn’t go over very well with my subject and at least one of her friends. My subject thought it pejorative, and the friend thought it even worse, utterly sexist.

Actually, my schoolmarm thought it less than flattering, even after I pointed to the dictionary definitions.

Merriam-Webster offers this:

1: any of various flies (such as a horsefly, botfly, or warble fly) that bite or annoy livestock
2: a person who stimulates or annoys other people especially by persistent criticism //  a political gadfly

Gadfly, I said, did not imply a qualitative appraisal of the person. It was strictly relational, neutral as to the virtue or effectiveness of the gadfly.

Still, my school schoolmarm desisted, proceeding to school me on the distinction between denotative and connotative. Denotative is the dictionary definition, but connotative refers to the emotional baggage of word. As a poet, she said, she is more plugged into the connotative qualities of words.

My subject, when we last corresponded about gadfly, continues to be offended, but not to the point of erasing me from her life. I hadn’t persuaded her by pointing to the use of gadfly in a journal of generally high esteem—I seem to think it was Foreign Affairs, but maybe it was the Washington Post—not more than a month after I used it. And, it may matter, that it was used to describe a man, as it was in this most recent case in the New York Times.

Merriam-Webster traces the word to Socrates or at least to his student, Plato.

“One of history’s most famous gadflies was the philosopher Socrates, who was known for his constant questioning of his fellow Athenians’ ethics, misconceptions, and assumptions. In his Apology, Plato describes Socrates’ characterization of Athens as a large and sluggish horse and of Socrates himself as the fly that bites and rouses it. Many translations use gadfly in this portion of the Apology, and Socrates is sometimes referred to as the ‘gadfly of Athens.'”

A New York Times account some years past went on to note that Socrates thought his service to the Athenian state as resident critic should earn him free dinners for life. “He was given a cup of hemlock instead,” the story said.

We can hope that the Russian government, known to favor poison to extinguish political dissidents, does not use the same technique on the Putin regime’s current most prominent critic. On Feb. 13, the Boston Globe had a story with the headline: “A life in opposition: Navalny’s path from gadfly to heroic symbol.” — Allen Best, Feb. 26, 2021

What is my responsibility as the nation verges on capsizing?

Social media has been described as an echo chamber, and when it comes to Facebook, that’s mostly true in my case. Most of the 400 or so people that are my friends (or at least those who bother to post) align with me in a general sort of way. There are some differences, and we may respond very differently. I have one friend, for example, a high-school classmate, who is overtly acerbic and angry. But, in fact, almost all of us are angry what has happened during the last six years. 

But there are a handful of others, people who turn up their noses, willfully walk past all available facts, regarding this former president. They offer rampant “whataboutism,” always finding some excuse—for that is all that is—to justify. No accountability. None. And there’s more.

They adulate this former president. In January 2016, speaking to a Christian church in Iowa, he had this to say: “You know what else they say about my people? The polls, they say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s like incredible.”

Now, of course, with the murder of the police officer at the U.S. Capitol, he came very close to doing just that.

I could not imagine this nation in the 21st century electing someone who flirted so openly with racism. Shortly after he was elected, somebody asked me about this former president whether I thought he was a racist. I said I didn’t know. That remains the case.  Yes, he used a racist dog whistle to appeal to the white supremacist to gain traction for his presidential candidacy. “I hear,” he would say and then talk about the birther conspiracy, the idea that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. At times, he went further, saying that Obama didn’t seem to have any classmates that remembered him. That sort of thing

When you think about that, it’s absurd. Barack Obama had one parent who was indeed an immigrant. But then so did Donald Trump. The difference? Sheesh.

Was Trump actually racist? Quite possibly, but it’s basically irrelevant, because that lies down below so many folds of arrogance, Narcissm, vanity, all bundled into a greedy pursuit of personal power. If all humans are imperfect, our daily journey quite often a struggle to align who we are with who we wish we could be as moral agents in the universe. Trump seemed to have no care whatsoever beyond himself.  He has seemed to have regard for his children, but I sometimes wonder if, in some circumstances, he would shove his daughter into the way of the coming subway in order to protect himself.

And so we had an attempt by this person of vanity to send a riotous mob to overturn the presidential election in which he had been defeated, caring not a whit of the consequences in terms of physical harm. One police officer protecting Congress was clubbed to death by these rioters shortly after Trump had instructed them to fight and to not be weak. It’s very, very possible—perhaps even probable—that harm, quite likely murder would have occurred to elected officials, perhaps the vice president. The evidence is ample.

Impeachment has come, an unprecedented second for this former president, although  conviction will almost certainly not happen later this day in the U.S. Senate. I am discouraged. Justice has been brushed aside as inconvenient.

Even more discouraging is what I do see on Facebook. Instead of acknowledgement of the abuse of power, abuse of the bully pulpit that Theodore Roosevelt described as well, the clear line of causality, I see those in the cult of Trump ready to try to bring him on again. They insist in believing that Trump was rightfully elected—despite the overwhelming, just overwhelming evidence. Despite the fact that the same election system t gave Trump a victory in 2016. They just absolutely MUST BE victims.

What is my role in responding to this? I’m mixed. Do I respond? If you’re silent, are you really part of the problem?

There’s no doubt that seeing that rubbish distresses me, makes me angry. It’s a bit personal. The attempt by Trump and his rabid supporters was to invalidate my vote.  It was an attempt to make rubbish of the U.S. Constitution. It was an attempt to destroy our democracy. I take all of this personal.

But do they hear? There’s no evidence.

Lately I’ve been reading about Reconstruction, the time after the Civil War when white supremacists managed to subvert the outcome of the Civil War, setting in motion unimaginable horrors for the next century, the lynchings, the cruelties, the cast system based on race. It is with us today, if thankfully much diluted. What would my responsibility had been had I lived in 1876 during the reign of terror of the white supremacists descended on the South?

What is my role here and now? Is Facebook and other social media a hopeful cause for communication. Given that I have limited energy, limited tolerance for outrage and anger and heartache, should I be using my time for other purposes?

I wrestle with my responsibility as an American citizen. — Allen Best, Feb. 13, 2021

The flag of Trump should never share the U.S. flag. Never 

Toward sunset during  my 4- to 5-mile walk last Saturday afternoon, the clouds were a delight. Turbulence above often delivers a visual feast as the light of winter, already thin, refracts off the streams of clouds in ways that make the eyes smile. What I saw at ground level was less pleasing.

About two miles north of my home was a flagpole on a corner lot, the American flag at the top and, immediately below it, the blue flag of Trump. This should never be. Never. They do not belong on the same pole.

It’s almost strange that I have such strong feelings about this. I have never been a flag-waver. Never had a flag decal on my car or truck and, until relatively recently, I did not even own a flag sufficient to unfurl off my front porch. But I do have distinct ideas about the flag.

First, flying the flag proves nothing. It can be flown as easily by a traitor as by a patriot.

But when it is flown, I do believe it should be in a manner that respects the intent of the symbol. Lately I have noticed various permutations of the American flag, various special adaptations of blue bars and red bars. These, I am told, are to reflect various professions or organizations. This is wrong. I see this as co-opting of the flag for specialized and usually tribal purposes, what I call “flagmentation.” The American flag, when flow, should serve only one purpose, and that is to reflect the United States of America. State flags and all else should be flown in ways that reflect secondary status.

Across the street from me I see three flags flapping vigorously in the winter wind, the American flag, the Colorado flag and a black flag that commemorates or draws attention to POWs and MIAs, i.e.. prisoners of war and missing in action. I guess I’m OK with this, too, althoughI wish there had been a clear ranking.

What crosses the line are these Trump flags. I saw them on a recent trip to North Park, flapping in the wind in front of ranch houses, the election now nearly two months past. I see them draped from house porches here in the city. But I don’t think I had ever seen them on the same flagpole.

What’s wrong with having a Trump flag on the pole below the American flag?  We are a nation of states and of many, many people. We can honor people as we see fit, but never in a way that leverages or diminishes the value of this one unifying symbol, the American flag. This flying of the Trump flag with the American flag does so. IT’s disrespectful.

The most charitable view I can muster is that it reflects confusion. I fear it reflects something worse, for we have been seeing and hearing far worse in this country, including from Trump himself. This is the idea that an individual is more important than country, it’s laws and institutions, that Trump is greater than the United States of America such that our laws of democracy can be tampered with, ignored, and trifled with. Nothing can be more unpatriotic. I don’t know if it’s treasonous, but it comes close. — Allen Best, Jan. 5, 2021

Thoughts on the longest evening of the year

Robert Frost wrote about pausing to watch the woods fill up with snow, his little horse thinking it queer, on the “darkest evening of the year.”

It was that dark day,  for me, in my head, and then the dark night, the longest of the year.

In the afternoon, on Facebook, I saw mention of the reports that the president and advisers had discussed potential for martial law. I scoffed that it was unlikely. What would be the provocation, Christmas shoppers run amok? Too much New Year’s revelry?

But, of course, with this president, no thought is too audacious. He preaches law-and-order but has been uncannily gifted at sowing discord, to seed disorder.

I noticed no mention in the New York Times or the Washington Post. The Facebook post directed attention to a  CNN report, and elsewhere I saw a story on The Atlantic website. Not all such stories of such mendacity in the past have been correct. We’ll see. Maybe there was no such discussion the White House. But most of the reports have been borne out.

“Fake news” a woman responded to the first Facebook post. Then she and other woman egged each other on. Fox News has become too leftists, one said, and suggested an alternative.

I responded tartly myself, something about the phrase “fake news” being a tip-off to the dishonesty of the utterer. And that invited a response that I was a small-town journalistic blowhard.

With a stomach soured and my mood darkened, for reasons I can’t divine, because Trump ordinary alone isn’t enough, I set out with my favorite companion to see the countryside, such as is possible late Sunday afternoon with the sun still setting before 5. We paused along a dirt road, clouds packed tightly like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich over the foothills, the sun set but beaming its last fiery light into the sky.

I took photos of Boulder Creek, then, as darkness draped us once again, we drove, finally ending up at a favorite restaurant at Dacona, one of the old coal mining towns of Boulder and Weld counties. We ordered a dinner, as we had many times before, but this time, we sat not in a booth, but in the front seat of my car. It was the first time to eat mashed potatoes and gravy out of a tin foil.

Just a few more months of this, we tell each other. — Allen Best, Dec. 20, 2020

Talking with secretaries, past and future 

Looking over the Biden cabinet picks, I see two that I have interviewed. Gina McCarthy had been the EPA administrator  when I talked with her briefly in a Denver meeting room, and now she will be the climate czar. I talked with Tom Vilsack, the past and future ag secretary, twice during his interim. 

Don’t be impressed with me. Most certainly, I am not. I’m a peon, a journalistic nobody. My point is that in this big, big country, int his vast world, it’s still possible for ordinary people to have connections, if just fleeting, with people near the center of power in what used to be called the free world, people who, I would sway, are trying to do good, to seer this wobbly ship int he right directions. You can argue that their sense of direction is skewed, and inevitably there’s truth to that. But I think there is good intention.

A year ago, I also talked briefly with the current Interior secretary, David Bernhardt. It was at a Colorado River conference. He wanted to know where his inquisitors were from. I said Colorado. He asked where. I said Arvada. He smiled, noting that he was from Rifle, and that Arvada was on the far side of the Continental Divide.

It was an old Colorado joke, and I took it as such. Had I been a little quicker on my feet, I would have noted that I spent four years in Kremmling—where we considered Rifle a down-stream town.— Allen Best, Dec. 18, 2020

 

Now that covid has arrived in rural Colorado 

In August, while working on a story about drought and covid and commodity prices, I talked with a farmer in one of the low-population counties in eastern Colorado. Our conversation wandered a bit. He shared that his community was disappointed that the governor’s covid restrictions would not allow the high school football games in the fall. Covid, he said, was rare, almost non-existent, in his part of Colorado, and high-school activities were a treasured part of what constituted community in a part of the state where distance and isolation prevail.

“I wish we didn’t have a one-size-fits-all policies,” he said.

At the time, he seemed to have an argument. Covid-19 cases were, for the most part, rare in rural Colorado aside from those somewhat larger places that had meat-packing plants and prisons. The latter had among the highest per-capita rates of infection and death in the state. They still do. Morgan County, where I grew up, has had 52 deaths compared to 455 deaths in Jefferson County. That’s nearly nine times as many deaths in Jefferson County, but Jefferson County has a population 20 times as large.

Other farming communities, though, had few and even no cases. Sedgwick County, in the state’s northeastern corner, had none far into the summer. Baca County, in the southeastern part of the state, had just 12 cases. Kiowa County —whose county seat is Eads and has the grounds of the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864—had no cases, drawing journalists to write stories about this peculiar place absent  the virus.

Now, rural areas have the virus, too. And it’s smacking them hard. Baca County (Springfield) all of a quick has 107 cases, and Sedgwick (Julesburg) 112. And Kiowa County has had 26 cases.

Then there’s Cheyenne Wells. a town of 853 almost within hollering distance of Kansas. I was there last year on a Saturday morning, hoping for breakfast (no luck — the lone restaurant opened at 10 a.m., and it wasn’t yet 8 a.m.) I returned at dusk one Sunday evening this past July.  I’m doubtful people there were wearing masks this summer. Why would they? There was no covid. But now there are 63 — including the town’s lone physician. Colorado Public Radio tells of the ripples from that lone physician’s case of covid. It’s a good read.

As for my farming acquaintance who I interviewed this summer, I wonder what he thinks now that covid has arrived in his community. Does he have a little more respect for the juggling and balancing act of a governor in a time of a pandemic?   — Allen Best, Dec. 1, 2020

As the Dow surges, my main street suffers

These disparities mystify. This week the Dow surged past 30,000. Next door, a for-sale stands in front of the yoga studio.

Like everywhere else, much of Colorado was been largely shut down for several months this year, as it is once again now at winter’s start. But metro Denver had its biggest house-building year ever.

Last evening, I tallied my income for the year and discovered I’ll likely have my smallest income in 40 years, $10,000 to $15,000. Last week, a friend announced his best year ever, possibly surpassing $300,000. He sells real estate in a high-end market.

A New York Times columnist, Farhad Manjoo, on Wednesday reported a new threshold for wealth. Billionaires were getting even more wealthy, despite the pandemic And, in the case of the Zoom founder, because of it. “In  the coronavirus recession of 2020, most billionaires have not lost their shirts. Instead, they’ve put on bejeweled overcoats and gloves made of spun gold — that is, they’ve gotten richer than ever before,” he wrote.

I’m not even going to get into the blinding disparities between the facts that lie all around the the fiction that the sitting president spouts on an almost daily basis.

Can we continue to have a roaring economy even when there’s carnage all around. It just doesn’t make sense. At some point, isn’t there also a trickle-up phenomenon, the wafts of the stench at the grassroots infiltrating the bank accounts of the investors?

Somebody tells me it’s all about the cheap money, and maybe it is.

As for my personal circumstances, some of it was to be expected. I started a new, risky journalism venture in January called big Pivots. Unless you have one of those billionaires somewhere in your queue of funders, journalism is a challenge, and my interests, passions and approaches may be more peculiar than most. I’m terrible at click-bait. Luckily I have some savings to tide me through this year. Next year will be better! — Allen Best, Nov. 27, 2020

The election and Colorado’s four corners

It’s the rural-urban divide illustrated graphically. In Colorado, Biden had his greatest margin of victory in the state’s biggest city, Denver, with 82.2% of votes. He had his worst in Kiowa County, with 10.9%. This is according to Politico. He did only sightly better in Cheyenne County, with 11.4%. Denver is the state’s largest among the 64 counties, and  Cheyenne and Kiowa respectively 59th and 60th, according to this table. Both these counties are along Colorado’s eastern tier, their populations together not much more than 3,000 people, not much more than a small section of Denver’s Capitol Hill but spread across across 2,567 square miles.

The towns include Eads, Kit Carson, and Cheyenne Wells — and a place on the map called First View. I presume this is because at one point that was the first first of the Rocky Mountains to travelers. This is along the old Smoky Hill Trail that many settlers used to get across the Great Plains to the gold mining camps of the Rockies.

Back to the election: All four corner counties of Colorado went to Trump by wide margins. The widest margin was in southeastern Colorado, 83.9% of Baca County (think Springfield).  At the opposite corner, 80.8% of Moffat County (Craig) went for Trump.

In the northeast corner, 77.7% of Sedgwick County (Julesburg) went with the incumbent. Southwestern Colorado’s Montezuma County (Cortez) was almost flamboyantly liberal in comparison. It was only 60.1% for Trump. I wonder whether the Native American influence there is part of the story. The Ute Mountain Ute lands are in Montezuma County and about 19% of the population  is Native American or Hispanic.

I had expected Moffat County to walk back its Trump support a bit, given that he promised to bring back coal during the 2016 electioneering. Exactly the opposite happened. The coal economy of Moffat County is now almost certainly to be extinct by 2030, with only remedial work to be done and the faintest of  hope for some future uses of coal beyond burning. I was wrong. Moffat Coiunty stayed very loyal to Trump, the numbers little different than those of 2016.  Ditto for Baca County.

Ironically, some in Baca County are trying to benefit from the shift in electrical production to renewables, as Baca County is perhaps the windiest place in Colorado. It has wind to match that of Trump. This suggests to me that cultural perceptions, rather than pure economics drove these corners in their camps on opposite corners of Colorado.

While in Springfield in September, I noticed a lone Biden yard sign. Well, there’s a story! OR so I told myself.  To be so bravely in the minority. In Craig a month later, I saw no such evidence of bravado. It was Trump, Trump, Trump. — Allen Best, Nov. 5, 2020

Looking back on those wonderful yesterdays

In times BC, before coronavirus, Cathy and I invited the guy who lives in the apartment above her to have dinner with us. He’s a little bit younger than we are, but by no more than 5 or conceivably 10 years. Call us middle-aged or, at least in our cases, a little above.  I hate labels. “Senior citizens” bugs me. “Elderly” definitely so. But it’s fair to say there are more years behind us than in front of us.

Somehow in our dinner conversation it came up that we shared something more than a house in Arvada. We had all three climbed 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado. Cathy was last to the game and got two. I had 30-some, although I did Holy Cross four times and several others a couple  times. But well short of all 54.

Our neighbor had us beat—substantially. He climbed all of them.

It also bears noting that he’s Africa-American, probably the first to climb all of them.

One of Denver’s TV newscasters did a short segment on him last week. You can see it here:

— Allen Best, Oct. 1, 2020

 

Obelisks, defacements & debasements 

This afternoon we took a trip to Denver’s Riverside Cemetery, there to see the obelisks of the mostly long-departed set against a background of modern Denver’s obelisks.  We were looking for the marker for Silas Soule, but did not locate it. Not entirely by accident, we saw the tombstone for John Evans and his family. Both Soule and Evans had some part in the story of the Sand Creek massacre, although neither as a participant nor, for that matter, as proponent.

Later, after a rare meal out during this time of covid, this time outside a restaurant along East Colfax Avenue, we drove past the Colorado Capitol at sunset. The  graffiti that marred the granite walls in June and July after the Black Lives Matter protest veered off their peaceful rails, seems to have been removed. I believe the cost for that and other cleanup of these defacements was estimated at $1 million.

I wonder the cost to our democracy  and its institutions from these years of Trump. That debasement will not be so easily removed. — Allen Best, September 20, 2020 

I wonder what it’s like to breathe in Mammoth Lakes tonight

Mammoth Lakes, California, the town at the base of the eponymously named ski area, has to be a miserable place tonight. One website, waqi.info, which purports to provide real-time air quality index for around the world, gives Mammoth’s score at 999. Susanville, an hour northwest of Reno, has a score of 532. And some place in Oregon has 615. San Francisco, the place with all the eerie photos from yesterday, has an index of 215 as I write this.

OK, let’s assume that this reading for Mammoth Lakes is wrong. Another website gives it at 415. It’s at over 9,000 feet in elevation, about the same as Winter Park, Colorado. Can you imagine your lungs trying to work, sucking in those little particles, messing up your lung’s alveoli forevermore?

The point being that for people like me, with impaired lungs, anything above about 75 is stay-at-home and shut-the-windows time. I wonder what a pulmonologist from National Jewish Health would have to say about what it’s like to breath air like that. Four-pack-a-day habit?

I think it’s time to invest in an HEPA air purifier, for indoor use. If we stay in the West, there will be more of this to come.

It’s frightening to realize that the fires predicted 10 to 15 years ago, as I was studying climate change, are now coming to pass. Daniel Swain, a climate scientist and meteorologist from Los Angeles who I followed for a number of years, told Buzzfeed that he sees this fire season as a “way station on the path to a new future.” Six of the California’s 20 largest fires have occurred this year—and what used to be conventionally defined as fire season has not yet  begun.

“We have not reached the peak, Swain said of this new fiery normal. “In fact, no one knows where the peak is.”

The story was titled “Even Climate Scientists  Freaked Out By This Year’s Wildfires.”

Any some people want to blame it on the lack of logging. Yeah, there’s a little bit to that. A little. The big story is the failure to take climate change and the causes, most importantly emissions of greenhouse gases, seriously. Something to ponder as I take my nightly walk here in metro Denver, where the air quality is actually considered good after weeks of mostly smoke.

Yard signs, Trump flags, and the great divide

In September 2016, I drove across Nebraska to a funeral in Lincoln. I had not expected to see signs boosting the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, and in fact that was the case. There were none. But in Lincoln, a university town, I expected some presence. I think I saw two amid the sea of signs for Donald Trump.

Later, I read that the Clinton campaign saw yard signs as an outdated campaign tactic. The Trump folks saw it otherwise. They won, of course.

On a tour of southeastern Colorado this past weekend I was not looking for campaign artifacts, but I did see abundant support for Trump, both yard signs and also flags, some very big. One that stands out was on a field on the edge of Kim. It’s a place big enough to have a school but scant else. In Kim, everything is on the edge of town.  I say this with no disrespect, only to describe the size.

I wasn’t surprised, but I was puzzled. How do you fly the flag of Trump—in some cases as a twin to the U.S. flag—given what the president has said. This was just a week after the Atlantic story about Trump’s dismissal of war veterans as losers and suckers and several days after Fox News had confirmed the fundamental accuracy of the original story. (Others, I believe, have now further confirmed—and also dissected, as Politico did, why it may not matter).

For four years I’ve puzzled over this disconnect. How can people who lead basically honest, hard-working lives in the most rural of places and with only marginal wealth support an individual that is completely opposite in each and every category?

This morning Thomas Friedman in the New York Times had a column that was perhaps the best op/ed I’ve read in months, maybe longer.  “Humiliation, in my view, is the most under-estimated force in politics and international relationships,” Friedman writes. “The poverty of dignity explains so much more behavior than the poverty of money.”

Most of us despise Trump intensely, but the ardent Trump supporters, whatever the flaws of Trump, hate us even more intensely. And why do they hate us? Friedman describes an educational divide and quotes a friend, Michael Sandel, a Harvard political philosopher and author of a new book, “The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?”

I can’t compress Friedman’s column. You can read it here. It leaves me at a loss how exactly to move forward. Should I not congratulate my nieces and nephews who have earned college degrees. And for those who have earned master’s degrees, where the money really starts? Here’s the important statistic: in the 2016 election, Trump won two-thirds of white voters without a college degree.

And where does it leave us this fall? Friedman advises Joe Biden to take his fight to the nations’ midsection, the small towns, the factory towns, listening and absorbing the grievances. Then using that understanding to hand it to Trump in the debates.

As for those yard signs, I now have one for Biden in my front yard. I don’t see any others hereabouts, and I live in a neighborhood that tilts liberal. My sister in northern Idaho tells me that one of her neighbors had a Biden sign, and it got torn down. Things were ugly, and they’ve gotten worse. — Allen Best, September 9, 2020

Divided by glass, we were both in the bubble

We had promised ourselves a Sunday evening diversion, a trip to a restaurant during the time of covid. It was a given that we would be eating outdoors, probably with takeout. By whim, we ended up in Erie, an old-coal mining town north of Denver, and by luck a restaurant perfect for our needs: Nobody else was sitting outside (and almost nobody sitting inside).

The sky was lovely, the clouds rich with color. We shared a beer as we awaited our respective hamburgers, mine the aloha burger with a side of tater-tots, Cathy more disciplined with a salad. It was a perfect evening—and then it got better.

“Are the Denver Nuggets playing Utah?” Cathy asked. She was looking through the window of the restaurant. Inside, there was a lone patron, a guy drinking at the bar. Unmasked, of course. Our ages and my underlying condition make us more circumspect about the risks we take. Even when wearing an N-95 mask, I don’t want to be in a room with unmasked people. Cathy is the same. Others, especially those younger, and in places because of the political divide that seems omnipresent in the United States, have different risk tolerances.

I’ve been a basketball fan since I was very young. Cathy grew to enjoy the game. Our interest, because of limitations of time, is focused narrowly on the Denver Nuggets. How disappointing that the Kroenke family, owners of the Denver Nuggets and an affiliated cable channel, and Comcast could not come to terms before the season started last October. At length, I pulled the plug on the TV.

Soon after, so did the NBA—until an abbreviated season resumed inside a Disney enclave in Florida called The Bubble. There are no fans, no easy coming and going, some masks even, although not on players.

As the hamburgers had not yet arrived, I went to the double-paned window to get a better view. Seeing my face peering in, the bartender dispatched the waitress to attend to our needs. Were we getting antsy about those burgers? No, we just wanted to see the game.

And so the evening—and the game—continued, Cathy and I peering into the bubble of a sports bar at the television broadcast of the game being played inside The Bubble.

The lone patron was gone; it was just staff; and two of them had removed their masks. The bartender, now eating his meal, fist-pumped after a big 3-pointer from Jamal Murray, the Nuggets’ emerging super-star, looking back through the window at us, where we were were hooting and fist-pumping too.

Our risk tolerances were definitely not the same, and our politics might not be, either. But on that night, in the heady world of a big win in the NBA playoffs, we were on the same page—if on opposite sides of the window. — Allen Best, Aug. 30, 2020 

When a distant friend loses his life-long love

Why I got a card in the mail this week, a hand-written note. Those arrive very, very rarely. The circumstances were even more rare. My correspondent had recently lost his wife of more than 50 years. I had written him a note, to wish him the best in his time of grief, a grief that I doubt will ever fully subside.

We do not know each other well, this man and I. We have never met. I kind of know where he lives, at the foot of one of Colroado’s most lovely of peaks, and he kind of knows where I live, in a Denver suburb. He had taken an interest in my writing, and had subscribed to one of my publications. I was somewhat familiar with his name, the culture of which he was, and is, a part.

I suspect there’s an awful lot about which we disagree. I know he was a coal guy, when he was on a board of directors for one of the rural electrical co-operatives, one of those who approved participation in what will likely be one of the nation’s last coal-fired power units.

He wrote to me several years ago about is fear, his opposition, of the proposal to restore wolves to Colorado, through artificial means (and yes, they were removed artificially, as Arthur Carhart documented  in “Last Stand of the Pack,” first published in 1929). I’m not necessarily opposed to reintroduction of wolves, although I haven’t yet decided how to vote on Colorado’s November ballot question to that effect.

During our very occasional correspondence over the years, I had been struck by his devotion to his wife. He adored her. It came through loudly on the edges of our correspondence. We had lost contact in the last couple of years, and I thought it was likely that my “liberal” ways had finally become too much for him.

But when I read in his local newspaper of his wife’s passing, I hesitated not at all. I penned a short note on a card with a beautiful butterfly and dispatched it to the U.S. mail. He must have responded immediately. I was touched, deeply. I wish that our divisions as a country were not so deep, that we might figure out how to come together just a little more often. — Allen Best, Aug. 14, 2020

Why a law-and-order guy supports Black Lives Matter

As a law-and-order guy, more or less, how do I explain my support of the Black Lives Movement, having seen in Denver the excesses and read about the excesses elsewhere. I’ll get to that, but first about that qualifier: more-or-less.

Laws and the execution of that law, the enforcement, are two different things. Mostly I wish for more enforcement of laws. In Colorado, at least, police have given up trying to enforce traffic laws, such as speed limits in metropolitan areas.  You have to go to a quiet, rural highway to get a speeding ticket. (And I have— several times in the 21st century; in the congested metropolitan area I’m one of the slowest of drivers).

Here in Arvada, and I suspect most other jurisdictions, noise and light ordinances are routinely flouted. My impaired hearing ironically makes me more sensitive to loud noises, because hearing aids amplify indiscriminately. But noise laws are routinely disobeyed, especially by motorcycles, but other vehicles, too. Daily, I am assaulted in my own home by the roaring that break through the windows. I’m offended. I also realize that this is something difficult for police to enforce. It needs to be complaint-based and, I suspect, few of them see it as a high priority, little worse, if at all, than the jay-walking in my old hometown of Fort Morgan that sometimes cost people $5 .

I’m also offended by the black BLM spray-painted on the granite walls of the Colorado Capitol. (see photo lower on this page). That and other graffiti and destruction will cost the state $1 million.

Now consider this. Earlier this week on Facebook, somebody posted a meme that said something to the effect of “Are you brave enough to admit you oppose Black Lives Matter?”

“I support Black Lives Matter,” I responded. “My neighbors who are African-American will, when you ask them, admit to experiences that as American citizens they should not have to have. Again, I support BLM.”

I stand by that statement. I also stand by my assistance to Cathy when she was writing a letter to Sen. Cory Gardner, expressing worry and even outrage about the use of federal troops being dispatched to cities to “restore law and order.” I do not trust the president to do anything that is right. Only those things that serve his person interests. In short, I have ambivalences.

Ambivalences are also evident in today’s New York Times report, “Abolish the Police?Survivors Of Seattle’s Chaos Have Doubts.”

“For 23 days in June, about six blocks in the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood were claimed by left-wing demonstrations and declared political-free.” The story goes on to provide vivid detail through the lens of a gay immigrant form the Middle East who operators a coffee shop that was devastated by protests.

“In Minneapolis, Seattle and Portland, ore., many of those business owners consider themselves progressive, and in interviews they express support for the Black Lives movement. But they also worry that their businesses, already debilitated by the coronavirus pandemic, will struggle to survive if police departments and city governments cannot protect them.”

Yes! Nuance! It’s possible to support Black Lives Matter and be offended by its excesses.  Wrongs committed by a few police, indicative of a broader problem, met by outrageous that, at its edges, as in Seattle, trampled on the rights of others. (and there’s evidence that white supremacist used the disorder to create additional disorder, but I’m unclear how much this happened).

“Defund the police” is a stupid statement. But might the powers of police and their budgets be trimmed in some instances? That’s a hard but fair question to ask. I don’t know.

On that Facebook post referred earlier, some others chimed in later saying: All Lives Matter! White Lives Matter! And Blue Lives Matter (a reference to police uniforms). One is clearly racist, and the others overlook the clear evidence that African-American to this day suffer from a higher-percentage of mistreatment than do those of us who have white skin. The reason for this may be more complicated than simple racism, but this simple fact supports why Black Lives Matter is necessary.

And that, I believe, is a simple matter of law and order. The U.S. Constitution does not confer different degrees of citizenship. Black Lives Matter, at its purest level, seeks to rectify this injustice, this absence of law and order. — Allen Best, Aug. 8, 2020

A man shows up with a pistol but no mask…

Today, I was waiting for the crowd to clear out of the bakery across the street before I went in, a burly man strode up, in a hurry. He was packing a pistol on his hip, but no mask. The bakery strictly observes the mask rule. It’s posted on the front door. He didn’t notice or chose to be brazen. The pretty pastry people sent him packing. He emerged, returned to his black SUV, this time with something that he wrapped around his face.

— Allen Best, July 29, 2020

A happy chatter from outside the window

Just after darkness fell last evening, a happy chatter was heard, the sound of rainfall, splish and splash, splot and splat, tinkle and maybe even tankle, the water draining off the roof and through the gutter, then hurrying through the downspout and onto the concrete outside the window. It was, I believe, the first true rain of summer, as summer is strictly defined, the last rain coming on June 9 to the city and snow to the mountains.

Oh how we missed it, this symphony of tiny sounds.

We live in a temperate climate, here on the Great Plains just short of its rising and thrusting in the Rocky Mountains. It rarely gets really, really hot, nor very, very cold. Still, I am reminded of just how narrow a band most of us find comfort. Below 68 degrees F, I’m warding off chill when sedentary, staring into my computer. Lately, my office thermometer has routinely showed above 80 degrees. I’ve been sluggish, my energy flagging, my creativity smothered, my mood too often verging on churlish.

With precipitation it is the same. Several years ago I spent a November week in the foothills of the Cascade Range, near Seattle. It did not rain all the time, and perhaps — perhaps — not every day. But it rained — a lot. I grew weary, my mood darkened.

But then there are those times of searing hot, often of wildfires, too. The summer of 2002 was a benchmark, the smoke from the Hayman Fire southwest of Denver lingering for weeks and, if memory serves, of months, the hot temperatures made more disturbing by the other-wordly orange-hued light filtered through the smoke. In the mountains where I had so recently lived, it was the same. In Vail, when it finally rained one afternoon,  I was told, people were out in the sidewalks, out in the streets, exulting, dancing in the rain.

Last evening we did not dance. We did smile. — Allen Best, July 25, 2020

 

Law, order and the edge of chaos

Having been to the Colorado Capitol twice in recent weeks, a month or more after the marches and also the vandalism, I admit to being disturbed. The granite sides of the building have been defaced with slogans. I’m not proud. And in the neighborhood, for a mile east on Colfax Avenue, windows have been boarded up. It leaves you with an uneasy feeling.

But I never felt threatened by the Black Lives Matters protests. The threat came closer to home. Last Saturday evening, I drove Cathy and her grandson to a nature preserve in our leafy suburb. We watched the sun set, talked with the geese as best we could as they poked in the water for insects, and left feeling at ease. In Olde Town Arvada, we stopped at the coffee shop that has my photos, most of them of tranquil scenes in the high Rockies, then headed home.

Cathy had gone to bed, but I was lying on the couch reading “Blood and Thunder” when she came out. There were a lot of sirens, she said, because the bed is near the window, and the window was open. There must be a fire somewhere nearby, she speculated. I worried about my house (yes, someday we will live together, if we can figure out where we can find compromises acceptable to us both – that we can afford), but it was sitting dark and tranquil.

On Monday morning, the mystery was solved. It was frightening. There had been a shooting. Actually multiple shootings. One died, three were shot, and one person —a would-be Samaritan—was in critical condition, having been beaten savagely for trying to do good. There had been a gunfight, Hells Angels and Mongrels, their motorcycles raging, along a four-block strip outside a bar called Jakes Roadhouse. This is about four blocks away from Cathy’s house. I’ve walked there at night sometimes, and Cathy and I had actually cased a house for sale that would have been in the shooting zone. Police were told that 10 to 15 shots were fired.

I don’t think anybody would condone violence like this. Still, we perhaps have different reactions. My immediate thought was of motorcycles in general. For all their lawlessness, the Black Lives Matter marchers did relatively little harm. Daily, for many months of the year, I am assaulted by the sound of the motorcycles. I’ve never actually checked with a decibel reader, but I’d bet $500 that about 80% of motorcycle riders routinely violate the laws governing sound. IT’s unpleasant, sometimes it hurts my ears.

Why don’t police enforce that law? It’s curious what laws police do enforce. Here in the city, and not just in my suburb, but across the metroplex, it would be very, very hard to get ticketed for speeding. People routinely drive 20, 30 miles over the speed limit. on my own quasi-residential street of antiquity, people routinely drive 35 and 40 mph—speeds that would certainly get them tickets on highways passing through some small towns. I should know, because I have. The very last speeding ticket I got was for going 79 mph in a 60 mph zone—this coasting down form the Eisenhower Tunnel one September night. Few more on that highway than me and the state trooper. Had I been on a highway in Denver – well, I probably would have had people passing me.

So people driver faster in the city than in the country, and they violate noise ordinances with no consequence. Motorcycles don’t come off the assembly line loud. It’s because the mufflers are removed. And those little cars that create so much noise? I am told it’s because of an adaptation called “fart tubes.”

And so these are ruminations of an old fart, perhaps, and I would find it easy to put a political spin on this, given the way Trump plays to stupid biases of the right wing, including those who think there should be no limits on gun rights.

Just guessing that the guns involved in the violence down the street were illegal in some way, perhaps stolen. And so the argument goes that the answer to gun violence is be armed and know how to use it. Guess I should pack heat on my nightly strolls.

As for the police, I am again struck at just how dangerous their jobs can be. Can you imagine coming into a situation like that one last Saturday night? As for the motorcycle and their noise, most of this mayhem caused by otherwise mostly law-abiding folks who just think it’s cool to make a racket, I understand why that’s way, way, way low on the list of laws to enforce.

For all the talk about law and order, in most places we’re constantly on the brink of chaos.— Allen Best, July 17, 2020

Conservative echoes through the century

Reading in 2020 a book published in 1972 (“The Great Coalfield War,” by George S. McGovern and Leonard F. Guttridge), I find this sentence in a paragraph describing life in America in 1914:

“Conservatives wore little metal flags in their lapels as a public token of their patriotism and condemned the spreading disregard for ‘law an order.'”

Thee are other parallels, too. Page 208, paperback edition. — Allen Best, June 19, 2020

Should I give money to this gun rights group?

What did I do to get on Dudley Brown’s mailing list? He has something called Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, which bills itself as Colorado’s No-Compromise Gun Rights Group.

These e-mails started arriving concurrently with the purchase by Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of  New York City, of the big, big house and bigger ranch in the White River Valley east of Meeker. It was formerly owned by Henry Kravis, who at least used to be a frequent Vail skier.

These almost daily e-mails warn that much more than just the camel’s nose has arrived inside the Colorado tent. Bloomberg has funded gun-control efforts in Colorado and provided money to (unsuccessfully) resist the recall of two state legislators in 2013 because of their support of modest gun control measures.  

Today’s message warns of more, this time machinations in the meeting rooms of the Colorado Capitol: “Bloomberg’s leading puppet, Tom ‘Commie Tommie’ Sullivan (D-Aurora), is forcing the chair of the committee to take up both of the anti-gun bills.”

What are these anti-gun bills? The Denver Post this morning explains that Sullivan in early January had two bills in the hopper, one of which would  have required that guns that had been stolen or lost be reported.

The same story explains that Sullivan has a personal interest in this matter as his son was among the 12 killed in the Aurora movie theater in July 2012.

The same story explains that neither gun bill will be heard by the Legislature this summer owing primarily to the concerns around covid-19. The bills would provoke much public testimony, and that means congregations of people in crowded meeting rooms.

Commie Tommie? Somebody has been drinking too much of the Kool-Aid of that spoiled child in the White House. — Allen Best, May 29, 2020

Ruminations on the flagmentation of America

Funny how things stick with you. At Sherman Elementary School in Fort Morgan, Colorado, Mr. Robb, the principal, made a point of hoisting the flag up the pole every morning, to start the school day, then reeling it down at the end of the day.

We were taught that the American flag, out of respect, should never be flown during rain nor other inclement weather. Neither should it be flown at night, unless emblazoned in light.

Through life, that elemental instruction has struck with me. I’m not much of a flag-waver. But that does not mean I’m in any way cavalier about the flag. Some of the flag waving that I see about me seems to trivialize the flag and that for which it stands.

My elementary schooling was in the early 1960s. Then came the late ’60s. Flags were burned in protest, to the outrage of some. Even in the mid-1990s, treatment of the flag remained a cherished grievance among what would be described as the conservative element of the political spectrum. It was a constant in the rhetoric of U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, who represented the Western Slope of Colorado, that a constitutional amendment needed to be passed to ban flag burnings.

Burning of the American flag was never anything I would have done, but it was clearly a protected act under the First Amendment. Even so, I remember taking a photograph at a Fourth of July celebration in Vail in which somebody was wearing a T-shirt made from a flag and wondering about just how appropriate that really was.

The flag came up during the campaign of Barack Obama for the presidency in 2007. He chose not to wear a flag lapel pin when campaigning in Iowa.

“My attitude is that I’m less concerned about what you’re wearing on your lapel than what’s in your heart,” he told a campaign crowd  in Waterloo, according to a NBC News report. “You show your patriotism by how you treat your fellow Americans, especially those who serve. You show your patriotism by being true to our values and ideals. That’s what we have to lead with is our values and our ideals.”

Later, he relented and did so, and then he didn’t. Conservatives questioned his patriotism.

That’s exactly why I have distrusted those waving the flag. America’s biggest scoundrels in my lifetime have always been those who draped themselves in the flag. Who defines patriotism? And if it can be displayed by merely flying a flag, then it can be used by any scoundrel in the land.  I trust more judicious flying of the flag.

Now, I see the flag being modified to introduce additional representations. There’s a flag flying across the street from me that has been modified to honor firefighters. It has a red bar running through it. I respect the notion. Firefighting ranks among our most dangerous of occupations. The bar is intended to represent courage. I’m just not sure that the American flag should be modified to represent that. The American flag is a representation of one thing. It should not be apportioned to the various causes.

Driving through rural areas, I see yet other variations, whose significance seems to vary but which, I sense, is at odds with the notion of one nation.

Often other flags are also flow in the company of the U.S. flag. States flags are common, of course, and then sometimes the flag of an institution. Distinctly different was the flag I saw near the town of LaSalle, Colorado. There were two flags on the pole outside a house. The American flag was on top, but the dark-blue flag of Trump was just below it.

It is , I believe, unpatriotic, perhaps even sinister. From our beginning, we chose not to have kings, and we have scorned tyrants. This Trump flag flown on the same pole as the American flag thumbs its nose at all that which America has represented.

I guess what I see on the landscape in these times of deep divisions is something I call flagmentation. — Allen Best, May 25, 2020

A few planes fly through this ..

Some commotion this morning, a flyover of I think it was five airplanes across the western Denver metro area in a show of support or recognition of … well, I’m not sure. It has something to do with covid-19. What does not?

 
I stood on a street corner for a few minutes until the planes passed close to overhead. They were loud, although the last of them got drowned by the combustion of a diesel-powered garbage truck rumbling down the street. This neighborhood does not want for noise.
The effect of this special fly-over was much less than occurred on Sunday evening when Cathy and I went for a stroll in the corner of the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Refuge, i.e. the old Rocky Mountain Arsenal now stripped of its carcinogens and of those items used during World War II and the Cold War of the 1950s and 1960s to create mass death.
 
(All this prattle about the good old days I tend to think comes from lips of those who never laid awake at night in the early 1960s hearing airplanes pass overhead and wondering if it was a plane from the big, bad USSR to blow up Cheyenne Mountain.)
 
This southeastern corner of the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Refuge has lots of white-tailed deer and also, even now, in a time of pandemic, lots of planes flying overhead after taking off from DIA on a Sunday evening. I couldn’t help but gape at them a bit, just as I did this morning at the special convoy of planes flying to … well, I am guessing it was all an excuse for guys who like to fly. Well intentioned, but basically an excuse to fly.
In all this, I am reminded of another memory from the perhaps early 1960s. We were in Denver, at City Park, and a plane flew overhead, and myself and I am guessing several of my siblings stared at it.  My father admonished us, a bit embarrassed that his children were acting the part of country cousins (we lived in a small town in Eastern Colorado). Here I am, almost 60 years later, doing the same thing. — Allen Best, May 14, 2020

Insurrection on the quiet flanks of the pandemic

Ah, the good old days have started to slip away. We think we’re returning to normal. Traffic has started picking up. I noticed the difference tonight on my near-midnight hike up the hill. The noise on Wadsworth Boulevard has worsened, and so has the air quality.

Early in the pandemic, I saw somebody from Vancouver observe that of the remaining drivers, some drove more slowly, others faster yet. In metro Denver, that’s what I see, too, at least on my weekly travels.

We’ve never thought it made sense to completely stay at home. I can’t go for a year of staying at home, much less three years. That could be what lies ahead if the so-called Spanish influenza provides any guide. That bug had people 20 to 40 in mind. This one has my name on it: above 65 with an underlying condition (damaged lungs). But not getting outdoors and hearing birds sing and walking among the sagebrush might well be far worse.

Our rule of thumb so far is we have to stay within a bowel-movement distance of home. Overnights are tempting, but we’ll have to think about that hard.

But back to traffic. It’s always harrowing driving on the interstate highways. I can always count on being passed by people going 10, 20, 30 mph faster than the speed limit. They weave in and out of traffic. A wrong move and yes, terrible things could happen. I never see a cop. Our interstate highways, when they’re busy, at least in the greater metropolitan area, seem to be lawless.

Today, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis had an hour-long press conference where he talked about loosening the economy, allowing people to do more things. Campgrounds likely will be opened. Restaurants may be allowed to reopen late in the month, depending upon what kind of new cases appear as a result of the loosened restrictions of two weeks ago.

At least one restaurant in Castle Rock, south of Denver, thumbed its nose at the state’s authority. It opened Sunday, and masks and social distancing seemed to be virtually non-existent. Today, at his press conference, Polis came down hard on the restaurant. The state has served notice to the restaurant it will have to close—and likely will remain closed even after other restaurants have reopened.

Shouldn’t the restaurant patrons allowed to choose their risks? Polis said if the one restaurant were allowed to do so, 40 or 50 across Colorado might, and that would almost certainly result in coronavirus hot-spots, with likely tens if not dozen of people getting ill and some dying.

We are a state of laws, he said, and although he is a firm believer in the free market, the business owners have a fiduciary responsibility as well as obligations. If you want to change the laws, you can try, he said, identifying the several processes. He said he would like to change some laws and would likely fail. Polis was almost eloquent in his expression.

Other governors in the last 130 years have had to deal with insurrection, I think mostly because of labor strife in the mines and coal fields. This is insurrection is more tame, at least so far. The ideology behind this troubles me, though.

But as I noted earlier, there’s insurrection every day on the highways, pandemic or no. —Allen Best, May 12, 2020

Republicans sow fear amid ample evidence of success

Merchants of fear are already at work, preparing to lather up the masses later this year with disturbing images of hardship and misery. The strategy is to equate clean air and skies with job loss. The economic conditions of the pandemic will continue if the United States adopts strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s as dishonest as the days of May are long.

“This is what a carbon-constrained world looks like,” Michael McKenna, a deputy assistant to Trump on energy and environment issues, told The New York Times.

“If You Like the Pandemic Lockdown, You’re Going to Love the Green New Deal,” warned the Washington Examiner.

The reality is altogether different.

On a webinar on Monday utility executives in Colorado talked about the march toward 100% renewable energy. Renewable energy is coming in below the cost of existing fossil fuel generation. The coal plants are being stranded because they’re uneconomical. Will natural gas be far behind?

Utility executives are talking about flattened cost of electricity, even downward rate pressure, as coal plants close and renewables are added. They think they can get to 70%, even 80% or 90% emissions-free electricity before needing new technology, and that new technology may be more costly. But nobody really knows.

Keep in mind that just 15 years ago, it was you can’t run a civilization on wind mills. And nobody could afford renewable energy. Well, it turns out yes you can. The economics turned upside down and the technology improved. Now the same spirit of ingenuity has been turned to redirecting transportation and, more challenging yet, buildings.

The Republican Party is writing its campaign advertising from an old and now discredited playbook. It’s a playbook of fear. People accuse climate active of constantly beating the drum of fear, and that’s at least partly accurate. But there’s also a drive to find solutions. To live in constant fear of change is to be a slave to the change that will then come inevitably.

Too bad the contemporary Republican Party dwells in that  deep well of fear instead of trying to be a beacon of solutions. — Allen Best, May 9, 2020

The evening howl turns to memories of Ezra

Maybe it was the evening howl, punctually at 8 p.m. in my neighborhood to recognize the health-care workers and other front-line personnel in this pandemic, that got us to talking about coyotes and wolves and chickens and dogs.

Or maybe we leaped in our dinner conversation from humans, a generalist species that spreads and spreads, much like coyotes, who could be in our very urban neighborhood. How else to explain the neighbor’s chickens two doors down that got nabbed one day in broad daylight? That was the neighbor’s theory.

Cathy had some experience in such matters. Dogs are quite capable of nabbing chickens, she countered.

It was in Red Cliff, the mountain town where she lived for several decades. It’s snuggled into an alcove between the Gore Range and the Sawatch Range, a canyons downstream and a narrow valley upstream. Some see it as quaint, and it is that, but it’s also like living in an extended family. Actually there are literally many extended families. Like in any small town, you need to be careful when complaining about others. You’re likely to be talking about somebody’s cousin.

It’s a bit of the frontier, in that things happen that would just never happen in most other places, say a suburb with coifed grass. I had heard the story Cathy told tonight at least 14 times. It had to do with her dog, Ezra.

Ezra knew no fear, or at least not much. She was a pound dog, of indeterminate breeds, about the size of a German shepherd. She had a threatening growl and a deep, fierce bark when being protective, as she was with Cathy. She was the alpha among the dogs of Red Cliff, who had a way of getting together, because dogs were allowed to roam at will. And even when Ezra was fenced in, wire and boards and a 20-foot cliff preventing any trespass in or out, she had a Houdini way of getting out. I can testify to that myself.

The story goes that a ladies painting class from Vail had just finished setting up their easels one day, eager to capture the splendor of summer in the high Rockies and the quaintness of an old mining town, when Ezra streaked through. There’s more to what they saw than just that. Ezra had a chicken in its mouth, and the chicken was squawking madly for its life.

Hearing that story again, I teased Cathy. “I think you’re making some of this up. You know, it was a long time ago, and the fish just keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

“No,” she answered, “there were never five chickens. It was always just one.” — Allen Best, April 30, 2020

A note from Kyoto about Vail’s Dick Pownall

This morning I got an e-mail from a zoologist in Kyoto, Japan. The writer had grown up in Denver and, prior to entering high school, had come across Dick Pownall. He ended up at Dick’s camp in the Gore Range learning to climb, ski and all the rest. That was in the mid-1970s.

Dick died in 2017, and I had written something and posted it on this website. My first article about Dick was in 1989, on the occasion of the World Alpine Ski Championships. I was the managing editor of The Vail Trail, and we had HUGE papers to fill during the event. We had no wire service to fill papers. It was all locally generated. (That newspaper, like every other newspaper where I worked full-time at some point, long ago ceased to exist). I profiled him once or twice again after that in major stories.

In 1963, Dick Pownall might well have become the first American to summit Mt. Everest. He didn’t, because of quirk of fate. His climbing companion was crushed by a block of ice in the glacier called the Khumbu Icefall. As best I can tell, Dick never expressed any resentment at the loss of the limelight. His heart was too big for that.

Returning from Asia, he set out to build a cabin on land adjacent to the ski runs of a new resort called Vail. Then he conducted a camp for mountaineering camp in the Gore Range and, during the school year, he taught and was an administrator at Denver-area schools.

For a time, it was common to bash Vail but I think most of the bashing missed the mark. There was so much nuance that nearly all the over-simplified stories—likely mine included—failed to capture the complexities of the place.

And I must say that it was gratifying to get the note from the reader in Kyoto. After his years in Colorado he ended up as a zoologist based in Kyoto, with a specialty in primates, for which he has traveled around the world.

Many mornings, I awaken with the gnawing question of what have I done with my life, what my remaining purpose is on this planet. The e-mail from my reader in Japan was an affirmation, of sorts, maybe even a subtle reminder that in many ways I’ve had it pretty good. —Allen Best, April 26, 2020

Ambushed by the lights

Like Robert Frost, I have been one acquainted with the night. I have not walked in the rain much, though, and from where I live it’s impossible to out-walk the furthest city light. I’m in metropolitan Denver, where sometimes the lights ambush me.

It happened again tonight while out for my midnight-hour walk, a four-miler altogether. Walking down residential streets, several times my passing motion triggered lights, strong lights, police lineup lights.

When I was a boy, growing up in a farming town in eastern Colorado, the rows of corn just a block away, we could see stars and, because they were such a startling phenomenon, passing satellites. The Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, and the Milky Way Galaxy, too. This was in Fort Morgan, which liked to call itself the City of Lights. Supposedly homeowners were not charged for the electricity used for their porch lights.

But the porch lights were dim compared to what is common now, I am guessing 30 watts and perhaps 60 watts, and mostly shielded. Now, it’s almost rare for lights to be shielded. And now we have LED lights, too.

LED lights require far less electricity to produce a given amount of light than their predecessors, incandescent bulbs, which in turn required less light than the incandescent lights that dominated for over a century. What this means is that we can produce a lot of light for the same amount of money—and so we do. It also means that it’s hard to see the stars.

That seems to be the way of us people. We have so little restraint. Because we can, we do. In this time of covid crisis, when an unprotected sneeze from somebody else could lead to my own death, I suppose this seems like a minor complaint. But then, at 1 a.m., I don’t worry much about getting sneezed on. — Allen Best, April 19, 2020

Oh, I remember when…

When I was in my 20s and my 30s, too, there were some splendid moments, a time when I was almost handsome, at least in dim light, in addition to always being tall. I remember one April afternoon walking across the street in Salt Lake City after a winter in Wyoming motel rooms when two women, pretty in my memory, crossed opposite me. “What a fox,” I heard one of them saying after we had passed. Later, I thought to respond, “and lonely.”

Another time, not many years later, I had shared a tavern booth with friends in a Colorado mountain town, and a friend of a friend very much caught my eye. I don’t know exactly what happened, but before I left from that weekend I stopped by her apartment, honestly wondering if she had my hat. I can’t explain. What is important is how she responded. “You don’t need an excuse of a lost hat to stop by to see me.” And so we had a wonderful time, among many.

Yes, I remember those good days—and nights.

I remember in later years, when I became avid about the outdoors and physical feats, climbing and skiing, skiing and climbing. I skied down from two volcanoes in the Cascades, skied from Colroado’s second highest mountain, and even into my mid-40s could carry a 50 or 60-pound pack for mile after mile. Ah, those were the days. I remember them well. I wish I could still do those things.

And now I look back fondly on a time of my life when I could go to the grocery store. Yes, just wander the aisles, with scarcely a thought in my head save for what I wanted to buy. Seems like forever ago. In fact, I believe it was March 8. Sigh. — Allen Best, April 10, 2020

We call it Mt. McClellan, but with hindsight…

Reading Civil War history, I wonder whether a certain 13,587-foot Mt. McClellan might deserve another name. After all, we’ve done our best to cleanse town squares of monuments to people on the wrong side of history.

This mountain in Colorado, located just south of Interstate 70 near Silver Plume, was named for General George McClellan. He was on the right side of history, in that he was general-in-chief of the Union Army the early going of the Civil War. But what an imperious, arrogant self-important oaf. In the telling of Doris Kearns Goodwin in her “Team of Rivals,” McClellan liked to keep Lincoln waiting, just because he thought he could, even choosing to take naps when the president waited. As for his abilities—not much to be had. He almost surely cost many, many lives.

How did we end up with a Mt. McClellan? I suppose the name was bestowed during the early days of the Civil War. Prospectors had already swarmed over most of the state by 1861 when Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter, triggering the war. They had been to Baker’s Park, what is now called Silverton, although the miners there tended toward Confederate sympathies.

More common were Union sympathies. At the head of the Blue River, prospectors at first called the camp Breckinridge, to honor John Breckinridge, the Kentuckian who was vice president from 185 to 1861. But when he went with the Confederacy, the camp was renamed: Breckenridge.

Our street names also tend toward a Civil War inspirations. Denver has a Hooker Street in one of its residential neighborhoods, I presume not because of a certain type of commerce but rather because there was a General Joseph Hooker (who got whupped by Robert E Lee at Chancellorsville in 1863).

In Fort Morgan, in northeastern Colorado, I was reared on a Grant Street, which was sandwiched by Lincoln and Sherman streets. The town was not established until the 1880s, but the Civil War was not far in the rear-view mirror then. In the Silverton area, there’s also a U.S. Grant Peak, a fine mass of rock that I never climbed and which, alas, I never will. — Allen Best, April 6, 2020

Bald Mountain CorniceBald Mountain Cornice

If you ski on the front side of Vail, you’re looking at Bald Mountain. This is the cornice just off the top. Cornices can be dangerous, because they can break. But the hiker in this scene from July 1997 is in no danger, as he’s still above rocks. But let me tell another story about Bald Mountain.

You will recall that the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude have done expansive landscape art pieces around the world, including at Rifle Gap in 1973 and, several decades later, a proposal for the Arkansas River Canyon between Salida and Cañon City called it Over the River.

In the Vail Valley, I was a newspaper editor. It was small enough that you could have fun on April Fool’s Day. One year I had Christo planning to do a toupee for Bald Mountain.

— Allen Best, April 1, 2020

What has Joey learned about social distancing?

I wonder what Joey’s brother has taught him about social distancing. Maybe I should lock my door. Joey has wintered in LA and then Phoenix but was scheduled to return to Arvada in I believe early April. Perhaps I’ll soon find out.

Joey is actually named Joseph. He has a limp, a foot that doesn’t run parallel to the other, causing him to sort of drag one foot at every step. That’s the least of his issues in life. He’s functionally deaf, despite huge hearing aids, larger than my own. I’m guessing he was born with deafness. And he has significant mental impairment. With hearing, or perhaps improved instruction, he might have the mental capacity of an 8-year-old instead of a 6-year old. Or a 10-year-old instead of an 8-year-old. It’s hard to sort out. Hearing loss compounds his impairment.

He rides around Arvada on his bicycle, always wearing a yellow vest, and he looks to do chores. It’s not the money, really, but the sense of purpose. It runs deep in humans. But he needs close supervision, which I just don’t have time to give him, glued as I am to the computer screen and keyboard. I absolutely refuse to let him use my electric lawnmower. I let him do some weeding some years ago and he promptly pulled out my freshly planted strawberries. Sigh.

But oh well. There are more important things than home-grown strawberries.

Once, I had scraped enough dirt and gravel next to my house to uncover an ancient sidewalk. Considering it was a project that required more time than I had to devote then, I instead guided him to another task. Emerging from the house somewhat later, I discovered he had abandoned that task and extended the surfacing of the sidewalk. It created a problem for me. To him, it was a sign of accomplishment. I expressed some anger. He started crying. He was at the time 65 years old.

Joey wants fellowship, purpose. I give him a $20 here and there and a bit of my time. It’s my (small) part of being in this village. Perhaps he gives me a more respectable backyard and, of greater value, a sense of my own humanity.

For the last couple of years when he comes by my house, he walks in and wants to hug. I wonder now, has his brother and I am guessing sister-in-law impressed upon him during their winter sojourn in Arizona that the norms and ways of the world have changed, that because people don’t want to give him a hug, that we don’t warn to get close to him, that that doesn’t mean we don’t like him?

Does Joey understand why we choose to be aloof?

— Allen Best, March 29, 2020

Fewer paychecks, but others have it far worse

In the last week, one way or another, most of the income that I thought I could count on for the rest of 2020 vanished, some because of the pandemic and others not. Lucky for me, I have enough savings to ride out this storm, assuming it subsides by 2021—by no means a given. I could file for social security, too.

Others are not nearly so fortunate. I know one person who must continue to work, in close contact with others, people of lower income who commonly live with others in cramped quarters. Others I do not know but can imagine: People already skating on the edge, perhaps because of their bad choices, maybe their bad habits, or just circumstances.

As one of my relatives said, these are the most interesting times of our lives.

— Allen Best, March 28, 2020

Few new cases of covid-19 in Colorado on Thursday. Why?

A statistical blip—or a consequence of public policy and social norming? Too soon to say, but the cases of covid-19 onset in Colorado has dived during the last two or three days.

On March 26, there were just 7 new cases, the fewest since the last day of February. The day before there had been 38. Four days before there had been 195 new cases.

This is on the daily posting by the Colorado Department of Public Health Environment.
I wonder, is this a consequence of the alarm sounded by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who had declared a state of emergency on March 10. The next night, March 11, the NBA suspended its season. Hockey and baseball leagues followed within the next day.

Still, business carried on as if nothing had happened. The real shift didn’t happen until the next week, not quite two weeks ago. Maybe that relatively rapid action by Polis has allowed us to dodge the sharpest edge of the pandemic. We won’t know for awhile, of course.

The same CDPH&E website also shows that Gunnison County has moved ahead of Eagle County as having the highest rate case per 100,000 people. (Of course, neither of the mountain counties has that many residents; it’s a proportionate device.) Pitkin County is 3rd and Routt County 4th. (Crested Butte, Vail, Aspen and Steamboat respectively). Summit County (Breckenridge) is 7th.

I continue to wonder about the transmission pathways. Of course, almost too obvious to mention, the leaders all have ski resorts. But San Miguel (Telluride) does also, as does Grand (Winter Park), and they’re not in the top 21 counties.

There’s a certain irony in Gunnison County being the leader at this time in the proportionate confirmed infection rates. Gunnison, the county seat, has been called out repeatedly in stories this year and several years in the past for the success of its quarantine during the influenza of 1917-20. Just two people died, while at least one other mountain community lost 10% of its residents in that pandemic. But, of course, Gunnison County is more than just Gunnison.

Mark Reaman at the Crested Butte News this week reports a leveling off in Gunnison County: “Initial numbers indicate most people self-reporting symptoms say their symptoms were first noticed in mid-March. As March has gone on, fewer people noticed new symptoms after about March 20.”

On a very personal note, I am reminded of that shift from March 8 to March 10. On March 8, a Sunday, I had gone to a coffee shop to read the Sunday New York Times then a grocery store, with no real thought of risk to my health. That Sunday night/Monday morning, I got sick. It wasn’t anything that kept me bed ridden. A cough, but never a fever. (Doctor said not enough evidence for testing, and I’ve gotten better).

Here’s why I tell this story. On that day Polis made his announcement, I had gone to two stores to get my phone fixed (U Break It, We Fix It did just that—and for a reasonable fee), then got a bowl of soup at a sandwich shop. By then, I was starting to think social distance, but not quarantine.

That night at midnight, I got up, coughing. But there was something more. I felt strange, and I made a strange request.

“Let’s talk about the happy times,” I said to Cathy.

We were, I had finally realized that night, in a new time, a new era.

— Allen Best, March 27, 2020

On social distances and then the hubris of social duties

With more vim than I’ve felt in two weeks and increasingly vinegary with advancing age, I went for my midnight-hour walk again tonight. I’ve always favored that hour since moving to the city as the air is better, the noise pollution also lessened, and the traffic is lighter and hence safer for pedestrians.

In this time of contagious disease, late night also provides an advantage in keeping social distance. But down the block, midnight laborers seemed to have no such worries. They were at work on something subterranean on a main thoroughfare, Wadsworth (Old) and Ralston, their yellow vests and white hats clumped into tight quarters of two or three.

By the library, others seem to have no great fears of social distance. These are the homeless. They have been omnipresent in Olde Town since a church across the street began offering food several years ago. In summer, they seem to delight in their vagrancy.I remember a guy with a brown beard and wearing a yellow dress popping wheelies on a bike last summer. Yesterday I saw him pedaling with his belongings in the basket behind him. Tonight, they huddled on a street corner. I wonder if this virus, covid-19, will find its way into their cluster, causing them to vomit and then gasp for air.

I wonder about me, too, of course. Cathy and I have pretty much played it by the book. Today, we got an order of groceries delivered from King Supers, not quite like she had ordered, says Cathy, but close enough given the circumstances. Then she carefully wiped down all the containers.

But there is freedom of sorts. Gas is $1.63 down the blocks and with Sani-wipes we can fill up the car and drive. Yesterday we did so to Barr Lake, on the northeast edge of metropolitan Denver. Some of you know it well and, in all likelihood, took much better photographs of the pelicans that we saw yesterday. And isn’t it too bad that a form of social media took away the connotations of twitter?

We walked aways along the lake, then paused. It’s understood at such places: It’s OK to be friendly, but at opposite sides of the path, at least six feet. But when I coughed — I have been more so than usual during the last two weeks (but no fever) — a fellow hiker down the way turned and looked at me sharply.

Expectations have, for the most part, been scaled back. In January, a newspaper in one of the Canadian resort towns said they would buy my piece about aviation emissions. The editor planned to use it when she was on vacation in February or early March.

Her staff didn’t use it, and now her world is upside down, too. Last week she laid off a third of her staff, and more staff cuts are coming, she told me today. And the piece, as was written, does not quite work in this AC world (After Corona, as Thomas Friedman puts it).

Long story shortened: a piece I had written for a Colorado paper (that didn’t use it) will work with some tinkering to acknowledge the pandemic. I offered it to her for $100, she said she could do better, $200 Canadian. I took it—a third of our original agreement. At this point, better than I had hoped for. (And still I puzzle why I’m prized more as a journalist in a foreign country than I am in my native state of Colorado).

But at 68 and with bum lungs, I’m one microbe away from the emergency ward—if they’ll take me. This will get far, far worse before it gets better. Just not enough ventilators, not enough hospital rooms for the tidal wave of sickness that is likely barreling our way, and a vaccine months and perhaps many months way.

Many years ago, former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm talked about the health care costs of thin hopes, all to stretch out life for just a few hours, a few days more, in those of advancing age. His speech was condensed by a newspaper reporter (incorrectly) to “You have a duty to die.”

I see some saying a strong economy is worth more than all this worry about a few hundred thousands, a few million people dying.. Social distance needs to be dispensed with when it gets in the way of business. “You have a duty to spend money!”
For some of us, the two duties would be conflated.

— Allen Best, March 24, 2020

The evidence for that which cannot be seen

All around as I strolled through Olde Town Arvada this evening was evidence of that which cannot be seen.

The 5:49 train from downtown Denver disgorged 8 people, unlike the 60 to 80 that I believe was normal BC: Before Coronavirus, as Thomas Friedman puts it. A quarter-hour loud there were just four.

Across the street were various businesses with mixed ambitions. Some were closed, but a pottery studio had people inside carrying on as if none had heard of this new phrase “social distance.”

The food and beverage establishments made special efforts to make it known they would take money and deliver food to go, at the curb if you pleased. For one, the newest of the bunch, the eatery in the place that used to have the gun shop, the doors were wide open, as usual, and the interior looked the same as before: no business. They’ll close, but that was inevitable.

On the sidewalk on what I guess is Old Wadsworth was a thin plastic glove.

The sign on the adjacent coffee shop said its open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily — but coffee would only be served in paper cups. Inside the window I could see a room vacant of furniture. They don’t want cash or credit cards, but other ways of paying. I seem to have fallen behind the advances in the digital economy.

Up the street, next to another coffee shop, the one with my photos exhibited, was a piece of oriented strand-board (like plywood) in a window, which had been broken. They sell stuff from the Himalaya region, and the owner or at least the guy who tends the store looks to me to be Nepalese.

Was this broken window collateral damage from the Trump blame game? He wants to call it the Chinese virus, which is not altogether wrong but deliberately sloppy, even malicious, likely deadly in its consequences. Consider the innocents killed after 9/11 in our country. Afghanis ran the gas station that then stood along Wadsworth Bypass and Grandview, and I asked them about what it was like to be Afghani in the aftermath of 9/11. They refused to talk to me, to acknowledge their Afghani origins. Innocent Afghanis Americans in the United States were killed at that time, just as had occurred with a German American after World War I.

Now, I don’t want to talk to people, because that puts me within six feet of them. I felt the impulse to go into my regular coffee shop, give them the $20 in my pocket and ask for just a $10 in change. But that means I would have to cleanse the $10 somehow. This is a time of money-laundering for good purposes.

It’s a mixed bag. The busyness of Olde Town had brought pollution: noise, air, and lights. There’s less of it now, and I get to park in front of my own house now. But I also feel for some of these merchants.

— Allen Best, March 18, 2020

Collapse of drilling industry in Colorado? It hasn’t happened yet, despite fearful comparisons to Black Sunday

A year ago Colorado voters rejected Proposition 112, the proposal to sharply curtail oil-and-gas drilling. But it was clear that legislators would take up the issue of further restraints on drilling, if not as Draconian as those outlined in Proposition 112.

But what would be the economic effects of clipping the wings of this business sector just a bit? That was the good question I set out to answer. The obvious comparison was to the giant economic shudder of the early and mid-1980s, one triggered by what is still remembered on the Western Slope as Black Sunday.

There had been a boom of rare proportions as Exxon and other oil companies threw money at the hope that the vast kerogen deposits of the Piceance Basin would finally be squeezed successfully (and economically) to yield hydrocarbons. That effort had begun in 1918, but with little success.

Then, the Saudis opened the spigot, prices plunged, and Exxon pulled out. One result: In 1985, when I moved to Vail, I got a condominium that was very affordable. If Vail’s real estate got pricey in coming years, the hangover in Glenwood Springs lasted longer. And in Denver, although I was not living there then, my impression was of a certain darkness. Cities altogether struggled in the ’70s and ’80s, but Denver may have had a darker edge to it.

A year ago, my journalistic question was just how dependent Colorado was on oil-and-gas extraction? Colorado Biz magazine commissioned the inquiry.

The answer, published in late December under the heading of Addition by Extraction, indicated that if all the drilling rigs went away, there would be great pain in some areas, Greeley more than Fort Collins, but even in downtown Denver, a lot more vacant offices. But in no way was the comparison to the oil shale bust valid. Colorado’s economy had become far more diversified in the almost 30 years since Black Sunday. Predictions of economic collapse were just ridiculous.

(Just the same, I saw exactly those sorts of prediction in February as state legislators considered rules to give local governments more say in regulation and, inevitably, restriction).

Now, some months since the restrictions have gone into place, I don’t know their effect. My impressions, though, is that the oil-and-gas sector is doing just fine. The bigger problem, one similar to that of the early 1980s, similar to that of the early 1980s, when the Saudis  turned on the spigot. But this time the plentitude is from domestic sources, particularly the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico

Let me add this: I had an interesting conversation with somebody at a conference this week. He had been in the oil-and-gas sector, made good money, and moved on. Given what we know about climate change, he said, it was immoral of the oil and gas company executives to keep plunging ahead, business as usual.

Now, I can’t get into that dimension in a business magazine that favors cheerleading stories about economic growth, at least not in that direct way. For them, I can sing the praises of alternatives, such as economic opportunities for electric cars (and I have a story in the current issue of Colorado Biz on that very topic). But that’s an important discussion to have.

Bill McKibben has been pushing that discussion since at least 2012, when he passed through Denver on one of his many “Do the Math” stops. His  6,000-word piece in Rolling Stone about “the terrifying new math of global warming” had been published the previous year. At the time, I called it, with understatement, “brilliant and and disturbing.”

“Those fossil fuels, if they are burned in the same way others have been burned, will produce five times the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than can be absorbed if rise of global temperatures is to be kept within a two degree increase. In other words, as McKibben put it, if the fossil fuels sector carries out its business plan, the planet tanks.”

Almost eight years later, we’ve made much progress. The coal plants are being shuttered rapidly, and we’re now on the verge of a big, big increase in electric cars. but oh so much work remains. And McKibben is right. Unless we figure out a way to sequester the carbon from the emissions, we can’t burn these fossil fuels. — Allen Best, Nov. 9, 2019

A resort county’s political pivot

Colorado’s Eagle County pivoted politically in 1992, and I’m still at a loss to explain what exactly happened. When I moved there in 1985, it was reflexively Republican, as was most of rural Colorado, but in a Jerry Ford sort of way. All the county commissioners were Republican and every other county official was, too, except maybe the surveyor.

We didn’t pay much attention to national politics at The Vail Trail or, for that matter, all the other community newspapers where I worked. But in 1992, as Bill Clinton took on George H.W. Bush, I thought to localize the story by sending our reporters to watch the televised debate to the living rooms of valley residents.

I hoped to be somewhat reflective of the communtiy, and in so doing I assigned myself to sit with a couple who had retired or relocated to  Singletree, a well-heeled community about 10 miles down-valley from Vail. The reactions of this couple surprised me. This couple  found Clinton more compelling. About the same time, James Johnson beat Rod Slifer for county commissioner. Johnson was a  Democrat who didn’t even own a car, I don’t think, and had worked in catering. Rod was one of the originals in Vail Mountain, predating the ski area opening, one of the first ski instructors and well established in real estate sales.

By 2007 or maybe before, all three county commissioners were Democrats, and that continues to be the case. Eagle County has flipped from Republican to Democrat and not Democrat of the old labor union  coalition. In this, it has the company of nearly every resort county in Colorado and, I believe, the Rocky Mountains. Even Wyoming’s Teton County, a hang-out for some of the country’s richest Republican donors as well as Mary Cheney, Wyoming’s lone member of the House of Representatives, comes down on the Democratic side.

It’s a curious relationship, this tango between wealthy Republicans and local Democrats. Even Aspen, one of the most liberal of enclaves, has this dance.  Aspen, though, has trended liberal since the ’60s. As in most things, both good and bad, it tends to be earlier than Vail.

I thought about that yesterday when reading a New York Times story about how inner-ring suburbs have become more Democratic while outer-ring suburbs have become more Republican. Even in our suburbs, the polarization has sharpened. — Allen Best, Oct. 27, 2019.

Where bears feel at home, but at great risk

We drove into Aspen Thursday evening, about an hour before dark and just in time to check into our hotel.

It was an older hotel, nice but not swank, yet superlative to our usual road fare. One example: they give you a choice of newspapers, including that day’s New York Times. Most places we stay, if they offer a newspaper at all, it’s USA Today, and invariably Fox is blaring on the TV.

But this was Aspen, and things are different there. For example, as we turned down a street, Cathy exclaimed: “There’s a bear!”

And so there was. It was big, a California sized bear, one you wouldn’t want stepping on your toes. It walked as if it owned the street.

I had flashbacks to Yellowstone in 1962, when people would feed bears along the road to Old Faithful, the bears putting their paws on the car sides. I remember my dad was distinctly uncomfortable with this. My aunt seemed to think it was a swell thing.

In Aspen that evening, I sat at a dinner next to the mayor of Aspen. He said Colorado Parks has “put down” 21 bears in Aspen so far this year.

In years past, there were always explanations for a lot of bear activity. If it was a dry year, the berries were scarce and the bears were in town. Or it was because there was too much human food lying out and about.

But this year was a wet year, at least until mid-summer and perhaps beyond. And Aspen, like almost every other mountain town, has tightened up its regulations about people leaving food lying about. Of course, as the mayor pointed out, Aspen is in the middle of prime bear habitat.

I was in Aspen to be honored for my work and to consort with people from mountain towns, people who I understand and who I like. The drive from Denver was knock-dead gorgeous on the day after a good snowstorm, the landscape colorful in only the way it can be when it’s mostly black and white. Today, we prowled around the Capitol Creek Valley, hoping to see Amory Lovins’s banana crop but instead finding ourselves mesmerized by the pastoral beauty with the backdrop of 14,000 foot peaks.

It was a day unceasing sublimity.

But the bear, ambling down the street — that was the highlight of the trip. — Allen Best, Oct 25, 2019

A sign in small town shows a big part of the argument in America had ended 

We’ve reached a tipping point of some sort in the United States, and I can’t quite put my finger on when it occurred. I’m not sure the pollsters can, either. The idea that the climate can be altered by altering the carbon cycle now seems to have mass acceptance.

My evidence is strictly anecdotal, a sign strung up in front of a coffee house in the farming town of Yuma, Colorado. It’s not a homemade sign, obviously. But the fact that the beef industry argues the carbon virtues of its processes says a lot about middle America.

How then to reconcile conflicting evidence? The people of this fine community overwhelming voted for a president who says global warming is a hoax, who tries to kill all efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The native-born son of this small town, a U.S. senator who rubs elbows with this same president, has been known to say some ridiculous things as if programmed by the Koch brothers. See: Dark Side of the Moon and Climate Change 

No, I cannot explain the perversity of the dialogue. A good case can be made that the background story here is  the trail of dark money defined by the writer Jane Mayer and others.

But maybe, just maybe, all the dialogue will then pivot—and maybe suddenly. That’s my guess.

In this same town, I picked up one of the newspapers from a nearby farming town. A photo and caption told the story about homecoming royalty at one of the local high schools: a Caucasian boy and a Hispanic girl. That just would not have happened 45 or 55 years ago.

In this same town, a governor arrived to shake hands all around, and the fact that he is gay, if it bothered anybody, they kept it to themselves. Twenty years ago? No, I don’t think it would have happened.

We can change attitudes remarkably quickly. I saw it in Japan in 1973 when I visited, just 28 years after we dropped two nuclear bombs. We were embraced, welcomed. From mortal enemies to best friends. In Vietnam, Americans are now welcomed.

Back to that sign: Had I seen it in Denver, I might not have blinked. In Yuma, a town of corn and cows, it was draped on a store at the most prominent of locations. The argument about whether global warming is real is over.

However, there’s great doubt about the seriousness of the problem. How else to explain the big pickup truck, left to idle, for no discernible reason. — Allen Best, Oct. 26, 2019

On a windy day in a land of giants

John Muir famously crawled up a tree to experience a wind storm as a tree would experience it. Recently, I ventured into a corn field near Holyoke, Colo., with a similar inquiry.

Cathy had performed poetry the previous evening, and as we loaded up after our night at the Golden Plains Motel, the strong wind knocked over a waste container from a nearby room being cleaned. Plastic of some sort skittered across the parking lot. I set out to snare it. The wind pushed it always a few steps ahead.

When I crossed the highway, I discovered a landscape that was disturbing but not surprising. The original errant plastic was lost in a sea of plastic.

I wonder what has been the most profound landscape alteration of the last 160 years was in this place. Bison and the Indians were dispatched, replaced so briefly by long-horned and unfenced cattle. Then came the plow and mostly dryland irrigation. In the 1940s came the hydraulic pump, allowing the vast reservoir of underground water generally called the Ogallala Aquifer to be tapped. It was tapped even more efficiently beginning in the 1960s with the arrival of center-pivot irrigation. Various petro-chemcial fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides have also come along. Or so is my understanding of the rough history of Holyoke and many places like it.

Beyond the new landscape of plastic was one of these “circles” of corn, the stalks swaying in the strong wind of early autumn. I venture into one of the rows, walking until I was dwarfed. I’m 6-foot-1, down an inch from my prime. The corn tassels were four feet above me.

Craig Childs, in one of his books, visits a corn farm in Iowa, where he spends three days looking for evidence of non-corn life. He gave up. Mindful of his story, Cathy was leery of joining me to experience the interior of a corn field on a day of high winds—not because of the wind but because of the chemicals. She did, though, and noticed something that I had missed: a ladybug on a stalk.

Investigation in a land of few visitors 

I can no longer go up tall mountains of my own volition, and Cathy goes down with only the greatest of pain. Out of this mismatch of disabilities comes serendipitous joys in other places.

Yesterday’s adventure in the wilds—I am not being flippant in using that word—of southeastern Colorado have rarely been matched in our shared investigations.

As Mark Zuckerberg has yet to pay me a thin dime to deliver free content to his ad-selling enterprise, where this was originally published, I’ll be spare in my narrative. I will say that part of yesterday’s fun was the challenge of harvesting the fruit of prickly pear without the proper hand coverings.

The cholla were obviously in bloom. But after all these years, this gringo in a state with a Spanish name let slip mention of the “cho-la” plants.

What do these Jersey barriers say?

Jersey barriers have been added this year to the Arvada Harvest Festival along with a dump truck parked to strategically block a section of booths set up on Grandview, one of the primary streets. I don’t know what to think of this.

The festival has been around 94 years, beginning when Arvada was a farming community and there was a harvest actually to be had. I became acquainted with it in 1998, shortly after I purchased this house in Olde Town. I had worked quite late the night before at Sol-Day News, the job that brought me to metro Denver. I was using the bedroom at the front of the house. Sleeping late, I was awakened with a start. It sounded like somebody was beating on a drum in the living room. Well, no, it was one of the many marching bands in the parade that had assembled in my front yard, not much more distant, awaiting the start of the parade.

I asked a guy sitting in the dump truck last night if he was part of a security detail. He was, he said. The police department had been leaning toward added security, creating blockages to prevent somebody from charging into a crowd with a car or truck, as occurred at Las Vegas several years ago. Then somebody tried to do at at the Taste of Colorado at Denver’s Civic Center Plaza on Labor Day. That sealed the deal.

Why 2019? What is happening in America that Jersey barriers to protect against potential of a psychopath homicidal driver in a relatively sedate suburban community becomes necessary now? And will the Jersey barrier and the towering dump truck be standard procedures if this festival makes it to 100 years?

9/11 changed us in so many ways. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that you can no longer stop at the Eisenhower Tunnel and bleed your bladder, as was possible before 2001. Water infrastructure has become tightly enmeshed in chain-link fences and, perhaps, in some places, with razor-tipped wire.

But 9/11 was caused by international terrorism. The larger story has been of domestic terrorism, guys a half-bubble off plum. Why, and will we ever go back?
— Sept. 7, 2019

Back in the day at Ouray’s Silver Muldoon

The Washington Post recently had a story about rising temperatures, and the map they created shows an uncommonly red blob over counties of far-western Colorado and eastern Utah. Among them is Ouray County.

This caused me to wonder about chillier times, such as when David Frakes Day was in Ouray. His newspaper was the Solid Muldoon.

Day was a veteran of the Civil War, as so many of the miners in places like Aspen, Leadville and Telluride. As a 15-year-old, he had been a soldier in the Civil War under the direction of General Ulysses Grant at Vicksburg. Half in the party dispatched to accomplish a particular militaristic task were killed, but 79 of the survivors — including David Day — were awarded the Congressional medal of honor.

Settling in Ouray in 1879, Day somehow had acquired the prerequisites of a newspaper editor. He could write. The Colorado mining camps had some wonderful writers in the 1880s and beyond, and newspapers then were to a great extent entertainment as well as information. SEO and the other ranking devices on the Internet today would have found his writing and others of his era terrible. The sentences were long and complex. But when they hit, they were oh so wonderful. He besmirched other mining camps, lampooned politicians, and punned away endless.

One story was that when Colorado’s lone congressman, Jim Belford, came through Ouray one time, Day pulled up several chairs together and laid down on them. “You don’t need to do that,” the congressman supposedly replied. “I’ll be done soon enough.” To which Day supposedly replied: “That’s all right congressman, I can lie down here as long as you lie up there.”

Mount Belford is among Colorado’s easier 14,000-foot summits, located in the Sawatch Range, between Leadville and Buena Vista

Telluride native son David Lavender, in his book “The Rockies,” told another David Day story. There had been snowstorm, and young people, he wrote, could now “indulge in street sleighing and heart slaying sighed by side.”

Day later moved to Durango, where he edited the Durango Democrat, but ended in Denver. He is planted along the South Platte River north of downtown in what is now a heavily industrialized area, an Xcel power plant on one side, Colorado’s sole oil refinery on the other, and the cemetery itself (Riverside) largely absent water.

As for Lavender, he taught school most of his life at Ojai, near Santa Barbara, Calif. I met him at a Telluride Mountainfilm Festival in the mid-1990s. I asked him about his book writing. “If you want to write books, be prepared to be very lonely,” he confided.

Neither a Perky Peak nor an aging Grannys Nipple: about Whiteley Peak

by Allen Best

KREMMLING, Colo. — It’s not Perky Peak, nor is it Grannys Nipple. A Grannys Nipple does exist, and not far from this 10,115-foot peak in the valley of Muddy Creek north of Kremmling. But more about Granny later.

Whiteley Peak

I drove by this peak yesterday morning on my way to a water conference in Steamboat Springs. If not all that high, by Colorado standards, it looms high over this valley near one of Colorado’s lowest Continental Divide crossings, Muddy Pass.

Nearby is a beautiful ranch, the Peak Ranch, once owned by Fay DeBerard, who raised Hereford cattle, as did all reputable cattlemen when I moved to Kremmling in 1977. He was or had been a state senator and, I was told, was married to a woman who had been a cameo character in Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” There were a lot of cameo characters in that book.

Not far away was the old Ritschard ranch. It had been the home of Con and Gladys Ritschard. She had grown up in Cripple Creek during the gold-mining boom years there. Con, I believe, had grown up on that ranch, the son of German-speaking Swiss immigrants. When I met him, he was in his late 60s or early 70s and he spoke with what to my ears sounded like an accent. Perhaps he grew up speaking German as his native tongue, if in a remote Colorado valley.

Con and Gladys told me that when they were young newlyweds, they ate lots of sauerkraut. They could grow plentiful cabbage there, and it was easy to keep. I suspect they also ate lot so venison and elk. They had a car, but it was of no use during winter. The road wasn’t plowed. They just jacked it up and left it that way, and got around by sled.

As for the peak that is pictured, it was named for Simeon Whiteley, who had spent a few years in the 1860s in Colorado after immigrating from Illinois. Among his jobs was as Indian agent for the Ute Indians of Middle Park and probably northwest Colorado. I guess a fringe benefit was to get a peak named for him before he returned to the Midwest. Reading this family history, I think that this showed the crudeness of the Eurosettlement.  Did he know anything at all about the Utes? How could he? He was little more than a tourist.

Ed Quillen, my friend and employer when I got to the Middle Park Times in Kremmling, assured me with confidence that this peak was named Grannys Nipple. A student of maps, I told him he was wrong. Grannys Nipple is actually an unassuming protuberance among the sagebrush-covered hillsides of Cretaceous shales two or three miles away.

My theory is that the U.S. Geological Survey crew assigned to that valley may have thought that Whiteley Peak, when seen from a certain angle, actually did resemble an aging mammary. They couldn’t change the name, so they had some fun along the way. An inside joke in the great outdoors of northern Colorado.

Although Ed has been gone now more than seven years, yesterday morning I had an insight that perhaps Ed was just funning with me. Sometimes it takes me awhile to get a joke.

Victims if Colorado adopts California’s zero-emissions standards for cars, and victims if it doesn’t

by Allen Best

Victims testified left and right at the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission hearing on Wednesday.

Gov. Jared Polis directed the commission to consider adopting provisions of the California zero emission vehicle standard. This would require vehicle manufacturers to increase the number of electric vehicles delivered to Colorado for sale beginning in 2023. With more variety, according to the thinking, consumers will be more likely to purchase electric vehicles.

Why electric vehicles? Two good reasons.

One is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Colorado has adopted aggressive goals of GHG reduction. The second reason is to reduce precursors of the ground-level ozone that blankets the northern Front Range from Denver to Fort Collins and Greeley on hot summer days. This area is out of attainment with federal standards.

The standards are based on adverse health impacts. A new study has found that air pollution— especially ozone—can accelerate the progression of emphysema of the lung. Researchers found that bad air pollution can have as much impact as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

The Denver-based Regional Air Quality Council testified why electric cars will help the metropolitan area to improve air quality.  What the agency calls “on-road mobile sources” contribute 31% of nitrogen oxides and 16% of volatile organic compounds, two contributors to ozone pollution.

Local government groups—including representatives of both Eagle County and Aspen—as well as environmental advocacy groups testified why they supported the ZEV standard.

Then, as the afternoon wore on, two groups with very different opinions took turns at the microphones. The first was a collection of environmental justice groups. Several identified themselves as being from along Interstate 70 as it passes through Globeville and other communities north of downtown Denver, east of Interstate 25. One woman, speaking in Spanish, which was interpreted, told about the injustice of sending her children to an elementary school there, near the intersection of the two interstate highways, and the pollution from the vehicles.

They opposed the widening of I-70, what one speaker, Drew Dutcher, called a 20th century solution to a 21st century problem. They lost that battle. But Dutcher suggested that electric vehicles will reduce the pollution to low-income areas such as his.

Ean Tafoya, from the Colorado Latino Forum, broadened that thought to include those who live along all busy highways. He said that Polis had visited poorer Latino communities and said that prioritizing public health was a high priority. “That’s what makes this an environmental justice issue,” he said.

Then came a group called Freedom to Drive Coalition. It includes Mesa County, Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, Colorado Motor Carriers Association, Colorado Wheat Growers, Colorado Petroleum Association, and others.

They reject mandates and argued that electric vehicles will be subsidized by purchasers of internal combustion engines, a cost one speaker said would amount to $500 per vehicle. They argued that upper- and middle-class residents of metropolitan Denver as well as places like Aspen would be burdening Colorado’s rural residents.

Elise Jones, a Boulder County commissioner who is also on the Air Quality Control Commission, asked the wheat industry representative if wheat farmers were worried about the effects of climate change. They were worried, he replied, but that was a long-term threat, whereas earning a profit on next year’s crop was an immediate concern. Wheat growers only make money in one out of five years, he said.

The testimony went on and on, and as the afternoon grew long, John Medved, talked. “I have never had anyone tell me they are going on a mountain adventure with an electric car except maybe in the summer,” he said.

Medved also shared this detail: He makes only $400 when sale of a car. All of his significant profits come from other arms of his car dealerships.

It’s perhaps useful to note here that electric vehicles have a reputation of requiring much less maintenance than internal combustion engines, because they have few or no moving parts. As such, they don’t need to be returned to a dealer or some other mechanic for servicing.

What was hard to digest was the argument that rural Colorado would be forced to subsidize urban Colorado. “Simple economics,” one of the Freedom to Drive Coalition. He tried to explain, but the explanation was completely lost on me. Those simple economics also overlook the projections that electric vehicles will reach price parity with internal-combustion engines by 2024-2027.

The Freedom folks also testified that accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles in Colorado will simultaneously raise the price of electricity and raise the price of diesel. Perhaps cause dandruff and bad breath, too?

As I write this, late Thursday afternoon, more than two days after testimony began, the testimony and the questions continue. By the time you read this, a decision will probably have been rendered by the Air Quality Control Commission.

The love gushes for Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris, the presidential candidate, took the stage at Denver’s Manual High school this evening, and I sure wish I could have heard her. My hearing is none too good in the best of situations. I lucked out and got a fourth-row seat, but it was to the side of the speakers, which were directed to the TV cameras and the press tables.

But I could see, and what I saw was the favorite for the Democratic nomination. Here’s why:

Harris, who is currently a U.S. senator from California, has her stump speech down. As a career prosecuting attorney, she should be able to deliver. And my impression is that she does, just enough. She’s comfortable on stage. She didn’t have people on their feet, except the beginning and the end, but hey, it’s 15 months from the election.

She was serious, mostly, when on stage, but she also had fun. She feels comfortable in her “believe in America” message. At one point, she was almost laughing.

Afterward, she worked the rope. not just a little, but I think every single person who wanted a selfie, wanted a handshake, got one. I didn’t see her kiss any babies, but she held several (and they were bewildered why).

The love seemed to give her energy. I didn’t see forced smiles. Her smiles come easily, at least in that venue. She was still posing for selfies 45 minutes after her speech ended (and when I finally left). Somebody described her as charismatic. She has a warmth in that setting that is the absolute opposite of her tough-gal demeanor on Senate committees. Will that hot and cold demeanor serve her well?

Manual High School is Denver’s historically black high school, later becoming dominantly Hispanic. Now, I’m not sure. I didn’t necessarily see Hispanics in the crowd, but I saw a lot of other variations, diversities of ages and ethnicities.

(And the thought did arise: Would Michael Bennet, who had a role in putting Manual back on its feet, have had nearly so much love in the same gymnasium? Of course not).

It was hot. I was sweating hard amid the heat of that many bodies on a summer evening, but I was glad I went. Perhaps these photos will tell you something that my words did not.

—Allen Best, Aug. 2, 2019

Guns and steel: On the grounds of the Colorado Capitol

At a legislative interim energy committee meeting this week at the Colorado Capitol, my eye wandered through the window to what was obviously a memorial of some sort. Afterward, I investigated.

It was a memorial to the Armenians massacred in 1915, erected in 2015, and by extension, a memorial to all victims of genocide. Wandering around the building, I saw more tributes: To those who had served on the USS Colorado during various conflicts and wars, and then another memorial to another classification of military veterans.

On the west side of the Capitol are more war memorials along with a couple of canon. It’s quite a display to war and defense. I do not take issue with any of it except to note that there are no monuments to others, at least that I noticed. It’s all guns and steel.

Most prominent is a memorial to Civil War veterans and those who died. Some would have died in New Mexico, near Santa Fe, turning back the Confederates in the Battle of La Glorietta Pass in 1862. (And why do they think it’s OK to fly the Confederate flag in Colorado?)

But how to explain Silas Soule? He’s on the list of Civil War veterans, but he died, not even a dozen blocks from the State Capitol, the victim of an assassin, in 1865. He had been at La Gloretta Pass, as had John Chivington.

Then, in 1864, with raids and murders by natives on the plains, some close to Denver, the 1st Colorado Colorado Cavalry Regiment made its way to Fort Lyon, on the Arkansas River and then, after an all-night march, descended upon the Cheyenne and Arapaho—mostly women and children and older men—camped along Sand Creek. Soule refused to lead his men to participate in the massacre led by Chivington, later describing the brutality to Major Edward Wynkoop as “cowardly.”

There’s a memorial to Soule on the side of a building at 15th and Arapahoe.

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