Wednesday, January 30, 2013

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A few years ago I was selected by the Denver Post to be among those called "Colorado Voices" and was asked to write several columns that appeared over the course of a year.  Following is one of the pieces that I especially liked.  Interestingly enough, the Post editor (obviously a city person) changed the title to "Defined by Road Apples."  Well, shoot, every self-respecting Western Coloradan knows that road apples are left by horses and not by cattle.  A few folks raised the issue and I had to place the blame on the editor (and I also wrote her about it).  I think the issues raised in the piece are relevant today and thought you might enjoy it.


By Larry K. Meredith


            Drivers on Western Slope roads in the spring and fall often encounter herds of cattle being driven to or from the high country.

            Inevitably, the residue of their passing is readily apparent.

            Not long ago a newspaper published a letter from a resident who complained about the resulting smell and the mess it left on her car.

            Of course the smell doesn't linger, and vehicles can be washed.

            The odor has the smell of history in it.  The complaining letter's scent reflects some of today's reality on the West Slope. 

            Neither is especially bad.

            Traffic jams near the small towns over here are often the result of those herds of cattle being patiently prodded by cowboys and cowgirls from summer range to winter feeding, and back again in the spring. 

            They are who we used to be. 

            They represent the ranchers, miners, farmers and merchants of the West Slope of the recent past. 

            Today's ranchers follow many time-honored methods of raising cattle with an added touch of technology that helps them with business plans and keeping cattle healthy.  But it's a difficult, thankless, smelly, cold-in-winter, hot-in-summer kind of job that doesn't pay well and has as many ups and downs as the West Elk Mountains..

            Still, they see a lot of beautiful sunrises and sunsets, they live in some of the finest country on earth, and most of them seem pretty happy with who and where they are.

            And, now and then they have to crowd their cattle to the side of the road so a line of cars can get past.  Give 'em a wave and they'll wave pleasantly back.

            Many of the drivers of those vehicles represent who we've become.

            We're transplants from cities and an awful lot of us are in a doggone big hurry.

            Thanks to technology, the world's business can often be as easily transacted from Gunnison as from Denver.  That fact alone has transformed the West Slope from a secluded, snow-covered headwaters region into an accessible snow-covered headquarters for business and commerce of all kinds.

            Consider, for example, that at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison every state in the nation is represented among her 2,500 students, and that from Crested Butte, 30 miles to the north, million dollar deals are made over cell phones, the facts cemented via email and the contract faxed for a signature.     

            Oh, the ranchers and a few miners are still here, thank God, and the merchants still work hard to meet their needs.  Other working people keep the economy moving by providing goods and services, meeting health care needs and educating our kids. 

            But many main street shops serve another clientele. 

            Yesterday's carriage shop has become a trendy coffee shop or a boutique store stocked with exotic and rare perfumes and a gaggle of doodahs that appeal of all of us.

            Nothing wrong with that.  Businesses emerge to meet demands.

            The point is that Colorado's West Slope (like most of the interior West) has become an engaging and wonderful mix of people representing a world of cultures, lifestyles, personalities and aspirations.

            The ranchers recognize this and they love their cell phones and digital satellite television as much as the rest of us.

            The changes that have overtaken this part of the world may have affected them and their approach to life more than anyone.  To survive, many are having to sell part of their land to be divided into 35-acre ranchettes.

            But cattle can move only so fast and there are few routes from the high country to river bottom pastureland that don't require some time on a highway.

            And if there's some cow poop on the road after they've passed by, some of us like the smell because it helps us define who we used to be and takes us away, for a moment, from who we've become. 


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