Ranchers: true land stewards
October 9, 2007
A few weeks ago, I attended the dedication of the student lounge at the new Colorado Mountain College in Rifle to a wonderful old rancher from Silt, Frank Starbuck, who died from an unfortunate accident with a horse. I bought my first horse from Frank, but what was more important was the friendship and education that came along with meeting Frank and his wife Bubbles, who have spent their whole lives living off the land they love.I was so inspired by their toughness and gentleness all at the same time. It didn’t matter that I grew up in New York and they in Silt, we had a common bond in the mountains and the great outdoors. Frank and his brother Joe took care of cows and knew every inch of that land, a right at the pine, a left at that aspen, and were constantly in awe of the views. They never took the land for granted. And did not think of it as hard work. If the cows were good, they were good.One day I showed up in a new little sports car that I thought he would think was cool. He looked at it and said, “So where do you put the hay?” Not very practical in his eyes. And that’s how it is in the ranching world. Everything makes sense. The land gives them a living, so they owe it to the land to take proper care of it and treasure it.So the master of ceremonies takes the stand for the dedication, and takes a survey of the people in the room. How many are first generation in the ranch community? Very few raise their hands. How many second generation, a few more. How many third, twice as many. And now, how many are fourth, and the majority raise their hands. That’s not easy to find these days of constant moving. I am sitting next to a couple, obviously ranchers from the area, and ask how they know Frank. One tells me he went to grammar school with him and they used to ride rodeo together, and proudly proceeds to show me his belt buckle, 1955 Bull Riding Champion.The speaker goes on to tell about how Frank and Bubbles have always found time to be involved in the community, being on multiple committees no matter how busy they were. The sense of community there was absolutely palpable. I was a little jealous. It is not that Aspen does not have a sense of community it’s just that the logistics of so many having to move downvalley seems to spread it a bit thin. It’s hard to know your neighbors when so many don’t really live here. But I digress.So while this was all going on, outside someone had provided a branding board and the ranchers were, one by one, burning their brands that had been passed down from generation to generation, onto that board. What pride they took in their cowboy “coats of arms.” “‘Cause you can’t really get decent ones anymore, all the good ones are taken, and you would never let yours lapse for not paying the yearly fee!”And in the end, the emcee, who grew up in the area (Bubbles was his teacher), related how in his travels he asks the newcomers to Colorado why they come here and the answer is always because it is so beautiful. And it is the ranchers who keep it that way because they live, love and respect their surroundings and as a result are the best stewards of the land you could ask for. Thank you to those who make the effort to keep their ranches whole and carry on the tradition, hopefully for generations to come.P.S.: I never saw or heard a cell phone the whole time! I guess everyone who they would need to talk with was there.Maddy Lieb is a resident of Aspen. Editor’s note: Soapbox runs weekly on the Sunday opinion page. This spot is a forum for valley residents to comment on local topics. If you’d like to contribute, contact Naomi Havlen at The Aspen Times at 925-3414, ext. 17624, or e-mail her at email@example.com.
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