Two years after I lurched away from Carbondale bound for Mexico and beyond, I was in suburban Denver, having just returned to my now strange country. I walked down the street, bewildered by the geometrical lawns, the hushed dogs, the houses with no walls around the property.
Later the smell of Doug firs wet from a rain in a slot canyon dissipated my bewilderment as I ran into the Seven Castle area of Basalt Mountain. The sandstone walls were gritty and cool. My body was imbued with the keenness that comes from knowing that mountain lions or foraging bears may be watching. Among the smells and colors of a familiar ecosystem, I was reconciled to my homeland.
I am now living beside the limpid water of the Crystal River, a far cry from the reeking sludge that rolls through the Rio Rocha in Cochabamba, Bolivia. There mass latrines form open trenches, people launder their clothes in the nearby river channel and the once verdant wetland is now gray and brown. Higher in the Andes, the contorted and shaggy Kewina trees die as native herders overgraze the land to provide their families with meat and milk. The bare earth clouds the Rio Rocha.
Farther north in Michoacan, Mexico, I stood among a million monarch butterflies perched on pine branches in the morning chill. Not one stirred. When the sun came up they came off the boughs like snow slides off a warming tin roof and burst open into orange. Electrified by the hum of 2 million wings, I then heard other noises: the whine and snort of a chainsaw, the sharp report of an axe. Just over the shoulder of the mountain the loggers had begun their day providing lumber and firewood for their communities.
Unlike many people in Michoacan and Cochabamba, most of us have full bellies, indoor plumbing and heated houses. Since we are not faced with a choice between our ecosystem and our immediate needs, we have the opportunity to preserve our land. I am grateful for Sen. Udall's leadership on protecting wilderness in our Valley through his Central Mountains Outdoor Heritage Proposal. Far from entailing a costly personal sacrifice, this protection will enhance our livelihoods as it ensures a continued draw for the visitors and businesses that keep our local economy running.
The land we have preserved so far in this area is unique and precious in this wide world, as is the opportunity to preserve more of it. I urge Sen. Udall to add the Basalt Mountain area to his proposal so that I always have a homeland to return to, and so my son can someday discover the same scent of wet Doug fir in a slot canyon near Basalt Mountain.
If you share my desire to protect our wildlands and are grateful for Sen. Udall's initiative, let him know at: www.markudall.