… I’m writing this column from my hotel room at the Gaylord Opryland resort and convention center, an amazing complex with enough beds to sleep the populations of Telluride and the Mountain Village together. The National Association of Counties (NACo) is holding its summer convention here. I’ve spoken of NACo before in this column. It’s one of the large lobbying groups in DC, wielding the political positions of over 3,000 counties nationwide … My area of expertise (and influence) is public lands. After eight years serving as one of Colorado’s eight delegates to NACo’s Public Lands Committee, I’ve worked my way into leadership – chairing a subcommittee on Gateway Communities. That means I get to set the agenda for my subcommittee and invite speakers to these kind of national meetings … For many years progressives (my term for those who tend to be liberal Democrats or – as in my case, Greens) were an endangered species on NACo’s Public Lands Committee. And when I was brave enough to vote what I believed six or seven years ago, I was often in a minority of 50 to 1. That was disheartening. And for several years, when my wife was sick, I dropped off the NACo delegation. It seemed so futile … But in the last three years I’ve become re-involved – elected by my state colleagues back to the NACo delegation. This past year I was even elected chair of our state association’s (Colorado Counties, Inc. – CCI) Public Lands Committee, finding myself in leadership in both my state and national associations … Since San Miguel County has more than half its land base in federal ownership, federal land management policies have a huge impact on county residents. It pays to pay attention to what’s happening on the national level, as the recent WestWide Energy Corridor process demonstrated … But going to two national conferences a year, one regional conference and several smaller events would be prohibitively expensive for a small county like ours. Especially in these days of constrained budgets due to the current economic downturn. Luckily, CCI set up a system where all Colorado counties with federal land ownership pay into a state fund that bankrolls the way for eight Colorado commissioners to attend NACo’s Public Lands events. San Miguel pays into that fund. And because I’ve been elected by my peers to the delegation, we get first-hand representation for our contributions to that fund (the cost of attending these meetings far exceeding the amount we pay into the fund) … With the political shift towards Obama Democrats nationally, NACo’s Public Lands committee has shifted as well. Progressives are still outnumbered, but we make up a strong minority voice – often 20 percent or larger. Colorado’s delegation breaks about even, 4 progressives to four conservatives. Our chair for three years has also been a progressive (amazingly) – Liz Archuleta of Coconino County (Flagstaff), Arizona. And new progressives include Annabelle Jaramillo of Benton County (Corvallis), Oregon; Julia Patterson of King County (Seattle), Washington; and one of my few fellow Greens in county government David Conley of Douglas County (Superior), Wisconsin … What that means is that on sensitive issues, while we may lose big votes, we often get to help shape NACo stands to be more environmentally and politically sensitive. We couldn’t get NACo to back the Clean Water Restoration Act nor prevent them from supporting uranium mining near the Grand Canyon or opposing managing roadless areas in accordance with the 2001 roadless rule, but we did put up a fight and garnered substantial opposition to the majority votes. There was good debate, progressive views were aired, and a number of substantive tweaks made to language. While that may not seem like much progress, it was a sea change from how this committee used to operate … In politics, change is slow, arduous work. But we’re constantly working to bring more progressive voices to the table and Nashville showed that we are being successful, albeit slowly.GILPIN COUNTY BIOMASS
… It’s been a busy summer. Last week I didn’t get to report on my trip to Gilpin County to tour their Road & Bridge biomass facility. Commissioner Forrest Whitman was my host – housing me and my son at his unique residence built of and around an old railroad caboose in the tiny mountain community of Rollinsville. Like me, Forrest pairs politics with journalism, writing regular columns in several area publications … Biomass uses chipped wood products – logs and small diameter wood – to produce energy to heat a building, in this case Gilpin County’s new 22,000 square foot Road & Bridge shop. Thanks to gaming monies (Black Hawk and Central City are gaming towns in the county), Gilpin was able to afford the new facility and thanks to the persistence of Whitman and Commissioner Jeanne Nicholson pushed through the biomass component over strong objections (and even recall threats) … The facility was amazing, is saving the county over $30,000 a month, and is a state model for how to do biomass right … I hope we invite Gilpin County officials over to San Miguel County to learn more about biomass, as it is clearly the wave of the future in meeting local energy needs and increasing the health of our forest stands.WEEKLY QUOTA
… "To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better; whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed a little easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded." –Ralph Waldo EmersonTHE TALKING GOURD
And this is the way it was
on days we were stoned all
the time in Highway Eighty’s
Illinois corn amazed it is
that tall. The girl tells lies
by the fire, a kid from Toledo
hobbled with jars in a corn row,
swears (near the water pump
where blue police cars go)
he didn’t want to jump parole;
they won’t take him, will they?
Just for wanting water?
I watch from the corn.
They handcuff him, whip on
flashers, rocket I-80.
Then, we scatter over the husks,
a hound in a panic on the pickup,
megaphones, a farmer’s curse,
yellow dust off packs,
embers blowing in the dark.
Her raspy breath behind me—
we’ve been together since Sunday—
heaves as we run by stars
till only crickets know
we’re on the highway
and the trucker—
who beckons from a shimmering cab.
I watch her shoulders slump
when he tells her “Crawl
past that curtain, to my bunk.”
Once I knew her name.
I won’t remember now.
“Where’d you get her?” “I don’t know.”
Fields swell together like a sore.
“Here, eat this,” a black pill in his palm.
My fingers twine the sleeping bag
I’ve burrowed in my lap.
He snaps a look across the cab:
thin mustache, greased hair,
white shirt pocket’s pearl snap undone,
a pack of Kools; offers the hand
twitching on the stick: “Name’s Lucky.
Been hauling this shit since Sunday.”
He looks ahead at the road.
“And you and me, friend,
we’re gonna be up all night.”