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Know the West

Dear Friends


Tony the workhorse

This paper depends on its readers and financial supporters, but above all it depends on people who hold down demanding full-time jobs and yet still find time to do little things, like writing huge chunks of High Country News. Over the years, reporter Tony Davis has been first among this group of writers, dependably providing us with stories about the Central Arizona Project, public-land struggles, land development, dried-up Southwestern rivers and bridges across the Rio Grande.

This fortnight, he comes through again, describing how Tucson is becoming a version of Phoenix, which is a version of Los Angeles. He also writes an obituary of former Arizona Rep. Morris K. Udall. The obituary is "just the facts," but Tony also has the following memories of Mo:

"If any single individual can be credited with inspiring my interest in the environment, it is Morris Udall. I was 24 and working graveyard shift on the rewrite desk at the Philadelphia Bulletin when he ran for president in 1976. I was impressed that someone with an interest in our quality of life, and who wasn't caught up in the Cold War debate, was a potential candidate. Here was a mainstream Democrat talking about breaking up the big oil companies.

"It made me think there was hope for American politics, even though he was to lose seven primaries to a vapid peanut farmer from Georgia who was all platitudes. I have to laugh about the fact that right after Jimmy Carter was elected, he tried to kill 17 Western water projects. One of his major congressional opponents was idealist Mo Udall, who worked hard to save the watery pork for Arizona and several other states. I didn't suddenly decide that Udall was a bad man, but I learned that all politicians must compromise.

"My second memory of him comes from 1980, when the Democrats got stomped in the congressional and presidential elections. His sorrow came over clearly during the telephone interview. He immediately realized the election wasn't a fluke, and he talked about how Democrats were going to have to adjust their ideals a bit to match political realities, even as he proclaimed: 'I'm a liberal.' More than anything, I remember how dignified he sounded, compared to the shrill whining coming from others of his political stripe."

A real Western newspaper

The most casual reader of High Country News knows this paper believes in rules: grazing rules, clean-air rules, mining rules and rules that regulate how rules are to be promulgated. So we were chagrined to learn that we have been in violation of a Colorado rule since 1992, when our 125,000-BTU boiler should have been first inspected.

When the inspector, a garrulous fellow named Randall Austin, finally happened by, we learned that not only had we neglected the paperwork, but we have also been heating the building with a boiler that lacks a backup safety device. Austin told us, vividly, that hot water heaters have the explosive potential of pounds of nitroglycerin.

The penalty for seven years of violations is $7,000 and seven years in jail. Staff is now discussing, shrilly, who should serve the time, whether we can each do a year, whether we can find interns interested in doing jail time for a nonprofit so staff can continue with its important work and, most appealing to staff, whether it is the board president, attorney Tom France of Missoula, Mont., who is really responsible.

This is not the first time the newspaper has run afoul of regulations. Last year, we painted the paper's name on our glass front door without getting a permit. Then, in an act of blatant recidivism, we ordered a large metal sign from Arizona without determining if it was smaller than the 50 square feet of signage regulations allow.

We're embarrassed, of course, to be hypocritical. But we're also quietly proud that we've become instinctually Western, flouting authority without even thinking about it. Living in the West has allowed freedom, or at least anarchy, to seep into our bones.

A great loss

We were saddened to hear of the death of Gary Vinyard, 49, a biologist at the University of Nevada, Reno, who played a critical role in the return of Lahontan cutthroat trout to their native Truckee River. Lee Weber, chairman of the biology department, said of Vinyard, "He is irreplaceable. He was a world-recognized expert on the Great Basin. He knew absolutely everything about the area."

Magnificent flackery

Reader Kevin Bailey of Fort Collins, Colo., who has never skied at Vail, received a "Dear Valued Guest" letter in the wake of the October fires. He was most taken by the following paragraph:

"Perhaps the most important news of all is that the fire was contained (sic) to man-made structures. It did not burn any trees, and therefore did not blemish our magnificent forested mountains."

Water for life

To ring in the new year, subscriber Greg Hobbs of Denver, a follower of water matters, sent us the following poem:

Whatever water touches,
Sings. So leave a pocket of water
For the tadpole to become the frog
And delight the child,
Who passing with his parents
Through the tall grass hears a voice
Saying what his-her-mother-father said

The frog would be saying:
"Rivet, Rivet!!"

Whatever water touches,
Sings. So leave and let flow a pocket
Of water to the child and the parents,
Whether city or farm be his or her lily
Pad. It's the nature of water to dwell
In the living, whether or not
We are listening.

Circulation is up

HCN's paid circulation rose 3.8 percent last year, from 18,705 to 19,414. The paper's Web site, its Writers on the Range op-ed syndicate, magazine advertisements and the new Radio High Country News all helped, but the mainstay was again several hundred thousand direct mail letters sent out by circulation manager Gretchen Nicholoff and her staff.

As penance, we considered printing a letter from Al and Betty Schneider, packed with hints for getting your name off mailing lists. But it's too long. So as partial penance, we suggest you contact the Schneiders by e-mail ([email protected]) or telephone (970/882-4647) for a copy of the letter. Some of the advice is so draconian (e.g., don't give the post office a forwarding address when you move) that no one will ever get in touch with you again.

A fire

It's a long way from Paonia to Colorado Springs or Pueblo, and so we usually aim to stop in Salida, both to visit with writers Ed and Martha Quillen and to eat at the First Street Cafe, in downtown Salida, a long way off the highway strip. But we won't be doing that again until March, when the cafe, which suffered a serious fire, reopens.

Here for the winter

After living for eight months in southwestern Colorado, new intern Rebecca Clarren feels almost dry. Born and raised under Seattle's stormy skies, she spent her junior year of college tramping through New Zealand's rainforests. After graduating from Massachusetts' Smith College with a degree in anthropology, she worked for five months in Alaska's Denali National Park, putting her rain gear to the test. It was last year that Rebecca found the sun.

While driving her packed car to a job in Denver last April, where she intended to write for a small newspaper's entertainment section, she stopped in Durango, Colo. She never managed to leave. Rebecca freelanced for Durango's bimonthly newspaper, writing feature articles about local characters and upcoming events. She also worked at a snowboard shop and waited tables to make rent. Rebecca says she is happy to spend the winter in Paonia, where she won't have to ask anyone what kind of salad dressing they want with their salad, or if they take ketchup or mustard with their hamburger.

New intern Juniper Davis takes a minute to count how many times she has packed her boxes in the past 12 months and comes back with a grand total of nine. "I have been feeling too transient these past months," says Juniper, "so I'm excited to settle down to life in Paonia for a while." Studying international environmental policy and salsa dancing in Costa Rica was the highlight of life in a long list of temporary locations, including Colorado, Montana, Canada and Mexico.

A Colorado College senior, Juniper grew up in Missoula, Mont., reading issues of High Country News as they turned up on her parents' coffee table. But her interest in journalism can be traced back to Hellgate High School journalism teacher Wayne Seitz. "He yelled and he screamed," she recalls, "and somehow he taught us all to love writing."

- Ed Marston for the staff