Ruminations From the Western Slope

Ruminations From the Western Slope
Colorado River near Moab, Utah

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September Remembered

I’m not sure what possessed me to watch The Today Show on the morning of September 11, 2001. I rarely watch any television in the morning especially when, as in this case, I was busy trying to get ready for work on the western end of Las Vegas. Nevertheless the television was on when I heard that an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Like thousands of others in that moment, I figured it was some kind of bizarre and unfortunate accident…until I actually saw the second plane crash into the second tower just a few minutes later. The rest, of course, is ingrained American history. The horror. The uncertainty. The dark settling cloud.

When I reached my office at the Bureau of Land Management headquarters a few miles away, everyone was glued to the television set. By then the towers had collapsed and all hell was breaking loose in New York. Suddenly federal offices everywhere were being perceived as primary targets. I was told to drive out to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, the 190,000 acre park that I managed at the time, to evacuate the visitor center, and to close down the 13-mile Scenic Drive. Paranoia was so rampant that I remember checking underneath my government pickup truck for car bombs before starting it up.

I drove west to Red Rock in a kind of fog as the late summer dawn was just illuminating the sandstone cliffs. The Visitor Center was easy to shut down as there were few visitors that early in the day. Likewise the Scenic Loop. I found myself driving past Joshua trees and creosote-flecked hills on an already empty road. At the apex of the loop, I stopped the car, got out, and sat on a lone boulder where I looked out over a surreal landscape of complete and utter silence. No airplane noise. No contrails over the imposing Las Vegas skyline. The silent desert for once was not sublime but somehow sinister.

To complicate the events of the next several days, not only did I have to contend with the alleged threats to federal facilities and the random nature of the violence, but my family and I were in the midst of trying to leave Las Vegas for good. I had accepted a job in Grand Junction, Colorado and we had already sold our house. But because of the tragic events on the east coast, our escrow was being held up as banks temporarily closed and the financial markets wavered. All we wanted to do was to get out of a city where we had never felt comfortable, and which had now become even more oppressive.

In another ten days we finally made the break. Most of our material goods were on a Bekins Van heading east. We made a rapid exit from Nevada and camped out the first night in Snow Canyon near St. George, Utah. Soon after that we were ensconced in a residential hotel in downtown Grand Junction. The horror began turning into hope. Amy and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary at a downtown Italian restaurant. A few days later we held a small birthday party (her fifth) for Lindsay in our fourth floor room. We drove up to Grand Mesa to hike amid autumn aspens. And I began my new life as manager of a slickrock wilderness of plateaus, canyons and the Colorado River.

Not long after that we found the little house on 9th street where we still live today. We came to know and love our community and to feel connected in some way in spite of the political and social upheaval that was occurring on the national stage. So 9/11 for me will always be a symbol of hope and change. On this tenth anniversary of the event, I don’t need the ever present media to show me the replays over and over again, to wallow in the sadness of it all, or to attempt to ignite unfettered patriotism. I need family, friends, and a quiet street in western Colorado where I can watch the beginning of every new day.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Response To a Friend's EMail

It’s good to hear from you again. Your email response challenges me to look beyond politics and deeper into my own visceral responses to coping with modern society. Right now, I don’t see it as either a liberal or conservative issue but more of a breakdown in basic civility and consideration. There are so many negative factors eating away at society these days, not the least of which is the media and a world where expedited electrical correspondence has replaced good ol’ face to face communication (consider this email as an example). It is especially hard on us old fogies who can remember when the telephone and letter writing and good old fashioned conversation were the norm and not the exception.

I will grant you that Obama has been completely ineffective….and a huge disappointment. But on the other side of the aisle, I see nothing but venality and greed coming from Republicans. Tax breaks. Subsidies for the rich. The complete takeover of government by corporate interests. And a general air of vindictiveness and a lack of common decency. Every aspect of our daily lives is being taken out of our hands and is externally controlled in one respect or another. So there is a constant battle to maintain individuality and optimism in the face of overwhelming odds.

So…what is my coping mechanism? I wake up early each morning, have a good cup of strong coffee, do a crossword puzzle or two, and watch the dawn break over my little street. I watch as my neighbors begin to stir, starting up their cars for the morning commute; the young girl who jogs by on the sidewalk; the elderly couple walking their dog. And later still, the parents dropping their kids off at the elementary school just a few doors away. I think about my wife and daughter, still asleep, the porch step that needs fixing, the vegetable garden that needs watering and weeding. I look beyond the street to the mesas and mountains beyond where I can make a getaway if need be. And I think about friendship.

As I get older I spend more time trying to come to grips with the past and how it has shaped me and my responses to the world. And I seek vindication of myself as a social animal, and I seek humanity in others. This is one reason why re-establishing contact with you meant so much. Or why last year’s high school reunion was so compelling. There were those old threads reaching back to the past with a promise of new connections to the future.

I don’t give a shit about whether you are a Republican or Democrat. I don’t care what religion you espouse (as long as you don't espouse it to me). But I do care about people. And I do care about the freedom to make my own choices, read what I want to read, think my own thoughts and practicing personal responsibility. Unfortunately, that last part isn’t included in school curriculum these days though it certainly should be.

It’s funny but when I didn’t hear from you for so long, I figured that I’d somehow maybe said something callous or offensive. I was feeling disappointed in myself. So I was particularly pleased that you responded. Quite frankly, I’d much rather hear about what you and your family do, or where you’ve visited lately, or share in your ruminations about the past than to try and make any sense of the cultural erosion that is going on all around us. We’re only human and all we can do is plug away at this life realizing in the end that our votes don’t make any difference but that our daily actions with our fellow man do.

Sorry I’ve gone on for so long. I’d much rather sit down somewhere with you and a couple of beers and continue this discussion. And perhaps we can do that in 2012. I plan on spending some time in California in celebration, if that is the right word, of turning 65. Who’d have thought way back in ’65, huh?

Do keep in touch, my friend.