Far from out of it

 

The HCN offices on the morning of Sept. 11 were the same as any other place in the nation, and perhaps in the world: People quietly huddled around radios, trying to figure out what the events would mean for themselves and the future.

Circulation manager Gretchen Nicholoff sweated out the hours until mid-day, when she heard from her former daughter-in-law, who works in lower Manhattan.

The night of the bombing, staffers noticed, Don's Foodtown and the local gas station had huge (for this town of 1,600, which never has lines for anything) lines for food and gasoline. Rumors had gas prices jumping to $5 a gallon.

Seth Small, the 19-year-old son of Loretta Small, whose family keeps this office clean, was a volunteer just across the East River from the World Trade Center, at the Jehovah's Witnesses headquarters in Brooklyn. He watched in horror and disbelief as the planes struck and the buildings collapsed.

Staffers Ed and Betsy Marston's children live in lower Manhattan. One plane went over David's apartment - a previously inviolate air space. He and Wendy and friends spent the day trying to find a place to give blood, and making sandwiches for the volunteers.

Former HCN intern and radio producer Gabe Ross was sitting in an international environmental law class at New York University - about a mile from the World Trade Center - when he first heard the sirens. "I didn't know what was going on until I got out of class and found that the towers were gone," he said. The day after the attacks, he reported, "New York is pretty weird ... quiet and friendly and kind of small-town."

Craig Childs of nearby Crawford, who wrote the lead essay on water in the desert in the last High Country News, was in New York City to meet with book editors. One of the editors he was to lunch with is Ed Barber of W.W. Norton, who happened to be in Paonia, visiting HCN, before setting out for Santa Fe, San Francisco and then New York.

Craig, whose commentaries are frequently heard on National Public Radio, turned newsman on Tuesday morning. His cell-phone reports from lower Manhattan were broadcast on Morning Edition and, later, on our local radio station KVNF.

Steamboat Springs rancher Jay Fetcher, who founded the Colorado Cattlemen's Agricultural Land Trust, came by to say hello the day after the attacks, and to tell us that the trust's executive director, Lynne Sherrod, was still in Washington, D.C. She was invited back to testify to Congress in favor of the grasslands reserve bill by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and The Nature Conservancy, a combination you don't see too often.

Copy editor Marion Stewart tells us her family had a history with the buildings that collapsed:

"As the rube Western tourists visiting New York City and our New York student Katy in recent years, we treated the top of the World Trade Center as our family hangout. Seated before the touchingly beautiful view of the harbor in the evening, we would talk over the day's events with the daughter who knew her way around. It was there we learned Katy was in love. It was there, after the graduation ceremony, that we saluted her Ph.D. Odd to say it for this Montana native and Colorado resident, we've lost a personal, public landmark."

Everyone we spoke to was full of horror and outrage. But people in and out of this office also struck other notes. It turns out, one said, that the United States is not a stand-alone entity: We need other nations and they need us.

The word "arrogance" was heard a lot. We can't pretend, a staff member said, that the hatred others have for us is irrelevant, or even undeserved.

A non-staff member said that the whole event made him wish that the United States stood for something beyond the bottom line. He wished we cared more about family and nature than about the economic machine we have built.

Finally, there was the staff member with no ties to New York who just couldn't stay in the office. She was too upset. Too damaged by the day's events. She had to go home.