Dear Friends

  • KEEP IT SHORT? Rocky Mountain fireworks

    Peter McBride photo

Skipping an issue ...

There will be no July 20, 1998, issue of High Country News. Twice a year, HCN skips an issue so that staff can skip town, or at least avoid the office. The next issue will be dated Aug. 3, 1998.

A day in the life ...

It is the week before the Fourth of July, and the entire Paonia town crew - three guys - is out striping the crosswalks and parking spaces. Paonia Library volunteers are sorting thousands of used books into fiction, non-fiction and Harlequins in preparation for the annual book sale. And High Country News has had a cartoon map of the interior West painted on one of its windows.

In nearly every house, guest rooms have fresh sheets and linens. And the local motels and bed-and-breakfasts are fully booked.

This kind of intense preparation doesn't happen here during the Christmas holidays or Thanksgiving or Presidents' Day. On those holidays, people drain out of town; they go to the commercial centers, where retail stores give sales and parades, and where professional sports stages its spectacles.

But in modern America, the Fourth of July, for bittersweet reasons, is a misfit, and it has remained, by default, in the hands of the nation's small towns.

For days before the Fourth, visitors will walk Paonia's one-and-a-half-block main street, reveling in the lack of fast-food franchises, traffic lights and traffic. Most of these visitors are "from" Paonia, in the sense that they or their parents or grandparents grew up here. Until the recent boom, Paonia had held steady at 1,400 people for most of the century, if you don't count the energy bust of the 1980s, when the place emptied out for awhile. That means the nation is filled, or rather sprinkled, with people who were born and educated here and then fled to what they thought of as greener pastures, but that we now think of as browner fields.

As the Fourth approaches, the idea of a town where there isn't much to do or much to buy takes hold. People come flocking back, and Paonia is ready.

We are ready not just with the bright-white street striping and the book sale, but with Cherry Days itself: a huge parade, lasting up to 35 minutes when there are lots of political candidates or when a balky horse stops the marchers, and a carnival and food and crafts booths and music in the park. The day is capped by fireworks put on by the fire department. The fireworks are grand, except for one year when they went on too long, and some people got bored. For those who have been here a while, there is the private hope that a defective rocket will set the hillside on fire, as happened once in the late 1970s. Back then, only weeds burned. If it happens this time, houses could go up.

But the point of the Fourth isn't fireworks, or parades, or even the HCN booth in the park hawking subscriptions. The point is reunions: family reunions, class reunions, reunions of people who grew up hating each other but who now are genuinely pleased to meet again.

The most prestigious family reunions feature five-generation pictures, and a four-generation picture is respectable. But some of us newcomers, people with shallow roots here, have to make do with two-generation pictures.

We Marstons have been in Paonia since 1974. After a couple of years of watching people march down Grand Avenue behind a police car with a siren wailing, and then eating bad food in the park, we started saying: "On Cherry Days we're hospitable. We make room for visitors by taking to the hills." After all, we had moved West because of the hills. The town was simply a place to live and work.

Lately, loyalties have shifted. I have come to understand that the hills will be there on the fifth of July, and only on the Fourth do the past and present interact on what has become an increasingly rare stage.

Odds and ends

Congratulations to former HCN employee Steve Ryder and Jennifer Leslie on their wedding June 16 in Kelly, Wyo. In the spirit of compromise, their honeymoon will start with a week at a dude ranch (Jennifer's druthers) followed by a week-long backpack in the Wind River Range (Steve's choice).

Judging by reaction, the most controversial article in the last issue was Dear Friends, in which publisher Ed Marston wrote that Richard Ingebretsen, head of the Glen Canyon Institute, was a "real doctor" rather than a Ph.D. Several people with hard-won Ph.D.s objected.

Swinging by the office

Former intern Kristy Ratliff of Salt Lake City came by and we were glad to hear she was using the journalism she learned here. During the NBA finals in Salt Lake she was a runner for a cameraman on the floor, ferrying film back and forth during time outs. The rest of the time, she teaches physics and earth science at a junior high.

Yukari Usuda, a graduate student in journalism at the University of Montana, was visiting Colorado with friends and stopped in to tell us about her thesis on changing Ravalli County, Mont., south of Missoula. It's the fastest-growing county in the country. She's been taking pictures and interviewing people on the subject of "the American dream colliding with development," and promised to send us a draft when she's farther along.

With skies darkening and grit banging on the windows, Judy and Dale Tolliver dashed in to say hello and talk camping opportunities. We passed some books on to their son, Kyle, 8, then found out that Dale owns a bookstore in Urbana, Ill., while Judy works in the University of Idaho's computer science department.

Annemarie Jensen from Boulder, Colo., said hello on her way to Crested Butte for a meeting of the state's county commissioners. A member of her regional air quality council, she kindly took some issues of High Country News to pass on to conference participants. We also chatted with former local Dick Montrose, who combines ski instructing with sculpting, and interests in land conservation with selling real estate. Dick, who lived in this area during the bust times of the 1980s, recalls giving local banks back his property while wishing he had the money to buy everything back.

Journalists from big-time media enlivened our week. Mike Long of Denver, who retired as a senior writer for National Geographic and now freelances for the magazine, follows some of the same issues as this paper, including the attempted restoration of Grand Canyon. He and Kay Caswell came by while on their way to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. We also talked to John Simon, an environmental reporter for the Seattle Times, during his tour of the West.

Readers Bill and Sue Jenkins of Flagstaff, Ariz., were out chasing Western history when they stopped by the office in June. The Jenkins are members of the Lewis and Clark Foundation, a group of 1,500 history buffs who converge every summer along the explorers' path for scholarly presentations and historical tours. This summer, they're headed for Montana for the dedication of the new Lewis and Clark Interpretative Center in Great Falls; they'd visited their son, Mark, in Gunnison who had gotten them "hooked on High Country News," they said.

Charles and Edith Hellie from Littleton, Colo., stopped by, and after hearing the 30-mile Kebbler Pass road to Crested Butte was free of snow and a rock slide, said they'd head that way. On the road to Telluride after side trips from Texas to San Francisco and Grand Canyon came investigative reporter Bruce Selcraig, his wife, Beth Hudson, a freelancer, and their bright-eyed children Cole, 8, and May, 3. Over pizza, Bruce was kind enough to share his interviewing techniques with the editorial staff.

Readers Brian Flatgard and Jill Randall of Phoenix, Ariz., said hello during their trip around the West, and Michael Chiantella, a college friend of intern Taffeta Elliott, stopped by en route from an MBA program in Buffalo to real estate appraisal courses in San Diego. He's teaching Taffetta to read stock tables and play darts in exchange for bread-making lessons.

Jeff Lawrence of Evergreen, Colo., popped in with daughter Alexandra, almost 3, to say he'd been reading High Country News "since its Lander (Wyoming) days." Betsy Collins of Kingston, Wash., said she'd been visiting her son in Paonia, who she called "a prairie-dog shooting redneck." Nonetheless, he'd given her her first subscription to the paper. Of western Colorado, she said, "It's good to be out here where you have something more to protect than the pockets we have between urban areas."

Joel Arnold and Janet Clawson-Cano from Durango, Colo., stopped in after trying to hike above the town of Marble, just over McClure Pass. What once was a public road is now blocked by new homeowners, they said. Joel told his paper arrives every other Friday "like clockwork," something he approves since he works in a post office.

Milo Clark from Berkeley, Calif., said hello during his tour around the West putting up prayer flags decorated with colorful fabric. He said the flags help to spread good feelings on the wind, but you have to be somewhere remote to spot them: "They come as a surprise." His Prayer Flag Project is based at 1153 Delaware St., Berkeley, CA 94702.

Subscriber Chauncey Anderson, a hydrologist in Portland, Ore., and his wife, Tracy Wygant, a middle school teacher, stopped by with daughter Mara; they were visiting Chauncey's sister, former HCN intern Gingy Anderson, and her family in nearby Hotchkiss.

A couple from Hopkins, Minn., came by on their way to Telluride, but they weren't High Country News subscribers: They brought greetings from long-time reader Sharon Palmer of Madison, Wisc., who'd asked her sister and brother-in-law to say hello in her stead.

* Ed Marston for the staff

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