In the land of the lotus eaters Durango, CO

At 6500 feet, Durango is much cooler and nicer than the deserts below. It is a truly cute town. Everything is clean and in good condition. It is a bit like a living Disneyland. People look healthy and outdoorsy. Durango was built by the railroads and grew because of mining, but now it depends on tourism and resident yuppies who love its mountain activities and pleasant, carefree atmosphere. The town does have a lot to offer an active person. Bike, running and hiking trails are all over the city. The slopes are good for skiing and the rivers are good for white water rafting and kayaking.

We went white water rafting on the Animas River that goes through town. Actually, I am not sure it qualifies as white water, since water levels are low. We had a decent, but not that exciting a ride. The river guide was named James. James studied anthropology and has some interesting insights. He believes in spiritual use of herbs (like peyote), was generally new age and a thoroughly charming person. He decried the greed of those who would use water for purposes other than sending it down the river for rafting or fishing. Talking to him makes me understand how far I am from Washington. People around here don’t care much for national politics. They feel separate from the East-Coast elites. In many ways this is the land of the lotus-eaters. It seems very politically correct. I don’t believe people litter or abuse animals in any way, and they even have non-smoking areas outside. The inhabitants of the region live well on the fat of the American economy without really understanding that theirs is a resource intensive lifestyle made possible by the larger U.S. They need energy intensive four-wheel drive vehicles to get to idyllic recreation places, which were deathtraps and wastelands before the government built roads to the general area. Their high tech equipment is made in those satanic factories far away (probably China). The town’s pride, a steam engine that still runs, makes more pollution than hundreds of big cars, yet that smoke is picturesque. I can’t blame them for their attitude. They are lucky. This is the kind of place I searched for as a young man and would like to retire to when I am old, but like Ulysses and his crew, I can’t linger in the land of the Lotus Eaters too long for now. Besides, parts of it are on fire.

We had planned to visit Mesa Verde, one of the oldest Indian ruins in America, but a forest fire closed the park. The drought here has lasted a couple of years and dry wood burns. James is philosophical. He has seen the rivers high above the bridges and seen them so low that the rocks scraped the bottom of the boat. He pointed out that this so called drought is small potatoes. It is nothing like the one that started about 900 AD and lasted about 500 years. He is talking about the catastrophic drought that finished off the Anastazi. I guess we can be thankful for small favors. But before we shout hallelujah too loud, we may ponder that this could just be the start of something much bigger. What happened before can happen again. Well as we all know, everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it and we have enjoyed some good weather in the last 150 years. James says that water will be the biggest resource issue of the 21st Century. I agree. In the arid Southwest, with its history of boom and bust, you see how fragile things can be and how whole communities can dry up and blow away as dust in the wind when their water is cut off. In the deserts of Arizona the old cowboys said, “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting about.” Let’s hope this doesn’t become a worldwide truth. On that happy note . . . Colorado is a great place. I still think I like Montana better, but I could learn to love this state.

As long as I am thinking about timeless truths, I just need to share two more. One I saw on a t-shirt, the other on a tombstone. “Give a man to fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and he sits in a boat and drinks beer all day.” That’s the t-shirt. “I never killed a man that didn’t need killing and never killed an animal except for meat” from the epitaph of an old west marshal.