Meredith C. Carroll: Acts of kindness and the dopes who make them possible

Meredith C. Carroll
Muck Off
Meredith Carroll

The details of what transpired Sept. 11, 2001, are fused like keloid scars onto those who were in New York City on that day. Swarms of dazed people lumbering uptown in suits and heels under the late-summer sun searing in the bluest of blue skies; the smell of scorching — paper, metal, flesh, life as we knew it; and the unprecedented sights and sounds of buildings and worlds collapsing as fighter jets roared overhead are the stuff of bad dreams, except for the thousands sentenced to relive them as flashbacks instead.

In the days and months after 9/11, the stench lingered in sidewalk grates and cracks, with the moan of sirens an unrelenting torrent of white noise. When the airspace over the city reopened to commercial aircraft, hearing or catching sight of a plane prompted shivers of panic as the image of two of them hurtling into the Twin Towers played on a continuous loop on TV and in the dark when you closed your eyes.

In a city proud of its reputation as a desert of anonymity and indifference, though, those planes also served to flip a switch. People not accustomed to making so much as eye contact suddenly opened their hearts, arms, doors and wallets in record fashion. Stories of kindness, tenderness, courage and generosity were born that morning and continue reproducing nearly 17 years later.

A human-caused disaster has been unfolding in the midvalley since the Lake Christine Fire ignited at the Basalt gun range on July 3. Yet if a humanity drought of national proportions has kept people lying awake with quiet dread since 9/11 (with even more trepidation piled on since January 2017), the past two weeks in the Roaring Fork Valley have, like New York, shown a much-welcome oasis of benevolence.

With roughly 7,000 acres charred and the fire still not entirely extinguished, families, friends, strangers and neighbors have banded together in an extraordinary showing of financial and emotional support. Tens of thousands of dollars have been raised for the families rendered adrift by the Lake Christine blaze. Meals have been cooked, homes have been unlocked, and donations of mental-health services, gift cards and clothes have been abundant. Appreciation continues pouring strongly out of the community spout from those grateful for the first responders, visiting fire crews and volunteers working tirelessly to ease the strife caused by two people whose actions belied both the law and basic decency.

The culprits allegedly responsible for igniting the Lake Christine Fire are clearly dopes, although for better or worse, they are hardly the first 20-somethings whose gamble on a poor decision didn’t pay off. Still, in some ways, their so-called ignorance of the law (they denied knowing tracer ammunition is never permitted at the Basalt gun range, not to mention that it’s completely disallowed under the Stage 2 fire restrictions currently in place) has emerged as less egregious than the people showing so little regard for the still-burning fire there and imminent fire danger elsewhere.

Coloradans smoke at a rate less than the national average, and it is probably safe to say there are even fewer smokers in the Roaring Fork Valley compared with the rest of the state. That makes the cigarettes lit over the past two weeks even more conspicuous — and jarring. Talk to a local friend or log on to Facebook and you can’t avoid eyewitness reports of cigarettes tossed out car windows up and down the valley. Likewise some Aspenites sit smugly on their back decks giving the middle finger to common sense and the law by flaunting their cigars just inches from residential structures, dry grasses and tree-lined mountains waiting for the slightest flint of encouragement to go up in flames.

A mixture of arrogance, entitlement and feeblemindedness seem to render even more idiotic those who think it’s some other jackass’s butts that are the problem — while completely ignoring the jackass in the mirror.

Just one tracer round, cigarette flicked in the wrong direction or unauthorized drone can be the difference between an uneventful day and the next all-out catastrophe. While neither smokers nor gun owners deserve vilification by virtue of their values or vices, it’s way past time for those lacking in judgment to put more thought — and heart — into respecting the people living in justifiable fear of being evacuated or on the wrong end of shifting winds, flying embers and the potential loss of life and homes.

The good news is we’ve learned from experience how to coax beauty from the ashes. Less good, though, are the villains and blockheads who insist on offering opportunities to learn it anew.

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