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Friday, November 18, 2011

Up Bear Creek / 17nov25011

Two marvelous mentors pass on

DEATH, BE NOT PROUD … wrote the English poet … But this weekend marked services for two humble elders who’ve played a large part in my life in Colorado. Both had wakes -- same day, same time. But different sides of Lone Cone … One was family, so I had to go. The other was a friend who sometimes felt like family, almost since day one of my San Juan Mountains date of arrival … Steve Herndon was a unique rancher from one of Wright’s Mesa’s oldest families – a cowman who bucked the rural tide of his neighbors and embraced environmental causes. Along with his feisty journalist wife, Grace, they breathed San Miguel County fire into the regional Western Colorado Congress and their own local Friends of Lone Cone. I moved into a Norwood post office box just a half a section from there modest ranch home … I’ve too many emotions and too many memories for prose, so I’ve written a little poem – this week’s Talking Gourd. I’m sure a lot more will come out … Steve Herndon was one of the giants of the San Miguel Watershed. Not a tall man but a deeply important one, especially to those of us who moved to this place from somewhere else, and have fallen permanently in love. Like Steve and Grace did … Bless them.

MERLE WILSON … Born in McElmo Canyon the same year as my dad, 1920. Married Carmen Robinson in the fall of 1943, while serving in the Armed Forces during World War II. Raised Herefords on a small family farm at Lebanon, north of Cortez and spent 25 years on Montezuma County’s Road & Bridge Crew … His youngest daughter Linda and I had a son, Rio Coyotl. So, I’ve been going to visit Merle and Carmen for almost 25 years … I heard lots of stories, learned a bit of history of the area. Took to pronouncing the nearby national park  “Mesa Verd”, like all the locals do … But more than anything I learned a deep peacefulness and gentle humor from Grandpa Merle. His service at the Lebanon cemetery was marked by the same kind of energies. His son-in-law Vic Hodges led the ceremony, and I don’t think I’ve ever been to a graveside service where there was so much laughing. People really had only good things to say, and many said they’d never heard Merle utter a harsh word or speak ill of anyone. Quite a legacy in 91 years … His was a compassionate nature that watched the world, paused before he spoke, and always had something kind or funny to say, or he said nothing at all … My oldest son drove up from Albuquerque. Lindamarie Luna came from Crestone. Wylder Wilson, Rio’s older brother came with his partner, Raegan Gottlob. Former Montezuma County commissioner Kelly Wilson, a relative, said a few words. His sister and Dem political ace Ann Brown of Durango won 13 of the 14 campaigns for political office that she managed – only losing her own race for the state senate in the 1980s. She’s always fun to catch up with and talk politics … Zea Beaver and her husband Rich were there. They own property surrounded by Hodges’ ranch, and have been friends of the Wilson family for years. Zea’s mom, Helen Newell, was a kind of legendary figure in Telluride … At the Hodge’s home it was fun to look at old photographs, many of them with Rio and Luna in them. Everyone was most welcoming, and it was wonderful to feel part of a family, part of a very wise man’s life … May we all have a legacy as proud as Merle’s.

COMPROMISE … George Harvey could be wrong. But I think compromise is what all sides in the United States increasingly treat as sell-out city. Tea partyers. Some enviros. Repubs and Dems. Libertarians. And even a hunk of the Green Party ... What we need is a radical middle that can get things done. Leaders who know how to work across the aisle for a compromise. Knowing that the word’s roots come from the Latin> mittere = “to send” (something) + pro = “forward” + com = “with” (others) It’s really just another name for democracy … Locally we seem to get that, as the Intergovernmental meetings demonstrate. But the Feds need to get a grip on the concept – yes, some tax cuts and yes, some tax hikes. Yes, some defense spending, but no more wars based on bad intel … We need to find middle ground, and stop taking our sacred cows off the table like pouty children.

FOOD BANKS & JOBS … Got stopped in the parking lot at Clark’s in Norwood the other evening. They were polite. Just wanted a minute, if I had it. And, as commissioner, I try always to have a minute for anyone … They were upset that Telluride wasn’t supporting the new uranium mill in Paradox because it meant jobs for the long-depressed West End. I tried to explain the gulf that exists between those who see sickness and black swan disasters in nuclear power, and those who see familiar, well-paying jobs that have too long been absent in the region … Pretty soon this person was crying. Remembering the poverty of her own past. And the long lines at the Food Bank in Norwood, where this person volunteers … I did my best to stay firm in what the majority of San Miguel County citizens want (no mill), and yet to be understanding of the predicament of so many unemployed West End folks who see the mill as the brightest hope on the horizon … Sometimes in politics there are no good compromises and people just have to stand firm in their beliefs and be respectful of neighbors who see things differently. I hope we all can do that with each other. Even in difficult questions like nuclear power … Meanwhile, donate what you can to the Food Bank. There are a lot of people who depend on that source of staples in these hard times.


Looking South to Lone Cone

-for Steve Herndon

Not the kind of guy
to sit around on a hos-
pital gurney waiting
for care to come along

or some package side-
saddle cure He leapt
at life Called it
like he saw it

Left not long after
his wife Gracie The two
of them riding around on
bicycles into their 70s

One of those endangered
breed of rancher-enviros
Would grip your hand
Look you in the eye

& see what you were made
of His an Old West make --
Dakota sandstone First cut cowboy
alfalfa Meadowlark & piñon


  1. Bravo to both - the Rancher and the Poet.

  2. thanks, colorofsand ... steve herndon was one amazing man...