Business dreams/nature’s nightmare
Vail CO, Colorado
As far as book stores go, it wasn’t much. It appeared to be a small office space that had been retrofitted with shelves, a cash register and a desk. It did have a fair amount of new and used books both classic and best sellers.
The lady who owned the shop was pleasant, though not particularly engaging. She looked to be in her mid-50s; she had white hair and pictures of children and infants on her desk.
Ellen and I had a stack of about 10 books.
The store owner glanced at us and asked, “Are you gas people?”
Ellen gave her a pained smile and said, “He sure was last night.”
I whispered to my mate that I didn’t think the woman was inquiring about my intestinal tract but rather if we worked for the natural gas industry.
We told her that we were just passing through in our RV and had done a mountain bike ride up on the nearby plateau earlier that afternoon. We mentioned to her just how much the landscape had changed in the only a few years since we had last visited. In truth the landscape had more than changed. It had been ravaged. New roads, ATV damage, and oil and gas wells had pock-marked the land and seriously injured the countryside.
We also mentioned the number of huge developments of modular homes that seemed to be springing up where once there was open space.
“Yes,” she said, “this town has doubled in size and is expected to triple in the next five years. I’ve been living here all my life and I have never seen anything like it.”
“How do you feel about that?” Ellen asked.
She frowned and thought for a moment and offered, “Well everything has changed. We have more noise, traffic, dust and crime. And it used to be that I’d recognize most people who I passed on the street and now I lock my doors at night. Heck, with the increase of property values, a lot of my family have sold out and moved.”
Nothing was said for a few moments then she continued, “but what are you going to do about it? It was going to happen no matter what. The gas industry has brought in jobs, improved the economy and we are getting a municipal pool; the kids will love that. Of course the environmentalists and hunters don’t like it but the hunters only came here once a year and the tree huggers don’t spend much money.” She ended with, “you can’t fight progress.”
While saying all this, the lady’s expression went from blase, annoyed, then to a little worried.
But then her face brightened and she added, “But … all this growth has allowed me to finally live my dream and open a book store.”
I wanted to say, you need to find another dream. But of course, I didn’t.
It was not my place to impose my values on her or even offer my opinion; it was too late for that. Her town and community will never be the same and all she got out of it was the privilege of opening a business.
Had I met that woman 10 years ago, when her town was still the quiet ranching community that had changed very little since I began visiting there 30 years ago, I wouldn’t have been so shy about offering an opinion.
I would have told the woman that the ‘It’s going to happen no matter what’ attitude is the kiss of death for a community hoping to maintain some control over its fate. I would have told her that though there are rights of private property there is also the power afforded to local governments to influence the course of sprawl. Hopefully, the town fathers knew that the access of the energy industry to our public lands is one that ebbs and flows with the various administrations. Often by simply slowing the pace a town can maintain its soul.
Unfortunately I’m afraid that the book store owner will come to realize it takes only a few years and a few poor choices to change a community from a nice place to live to a town where the most that people can say about it is that is good for business.
We all consume energy, and granted if more restrictions were imposed on energy providers, the price would go up. And it is true had that town been more selective and even less welcoming to outside pressure that lady might never had had the opportunity to open her book store. Of course it is easy for her to make that choice because in her eyes there was no choice since, “It was going to happen no matter what.”
We paid for our books (she was correct, tree huggers don’t spend much money) and headed out. Just before we left we told the lady how much we liked her store and hoped she did well with it. What I didn’t tell her was that as long as the people of the west ” be it a ranching town or a ski resort ” place their business dreams before their love of the land, nature doesn’t stand a chance.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on RSN TV and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Biff’s book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or at Backcountrymagazine.com.