July 2008

How best to preserve our paradise?

By Galen Larson

A day in paradise, my wife used to say when she gazed from her garden upon the snow-covered San Juans, turning south to the majestic Sleeping Ute Mountain and then to the Blues — just a short hop away, or so it seemed on a clear day.

To the north were the alfalfa fields and grazing cattle. An afternoon’s drive would take us to the cool Glade area or over to the canyon lands. Several good fishing lakes and streams close by.

This is the way it was 30 years ago when we chose to settle here. I am sure it was even better when the first settlers arrived, even with the hardscrabble living the area provided. The pioneers had vision, irrigated orchards, planted gardens and trees and flowers around their homes.

Then what happened? From poor management and greed we are about to destroy this small piece of paradise. No, I’m not one of those newcomers who intend to tell others how to live. But when one sees someone about to fall off a cliff, it is the right thing to try to prevent catastrophe.

Yes, people, we live in a paradise. We have moderate weather, no floods, earthquakes, or tornadoes. We have sunshine and natural beauty. Yet we fail miserably in the pursuit of our riches. Many of the people who profess to want “economic stimulus” keep looking to the horizon for the answer, not realizing it is right under their feet.

Going back a few years, the leaders at that time were trying to have a minimum- security prison built here to stimulate the economy. I’ve visited a few prison towns; never did I see a prisoner shopping. Most of the economic stimulus came from outside — the guards, prisoners’ families, and so on.

Fortunately, that idea fell by the wayside, but there are still people who want us to pursue some big outside industry or development that would be equally harmful. Think outside the box, they lament, all the while we have a box full of possibilities that no one seems to have the initiative to implement.

I’ve always wondered what would be wrong with a small, four-year college campus. Why has Cortez never vigorously pursued this option? Students spend money and a lot of it. Oh, better heads say we don’t have enough student population, but other small towns attract students from many other states. Wouldn’t that be a better economic stimulus than a prison?

And why doesn’t the city give tax breaks to small businesses instead of just to mega-corporations who squash those small local businesses?

Right now we depend on the CO2 and petroleum industries, construction and tourism to pull our chestnuts out of the fire. Yes, we could cover this paradise with monster second homes, but not being a termite, I would prefer agriculture and education, staples one can count on. One always has to eat and one should strive to get an education.

I would much prefer eating locally grown food since the FDA has no way of ensuring the safety of corporategrown food. So why don’t our community leaders help growers get grants to build large greenhouses? If one can raise orchids in Maine the year around, there is no reason enterprising entrepreneurs couldn’t grow vegetables year-round here. Anyone who has been listening to the news of late should be getting the message that food is the No. 1 concern of the world. We could be exporting it on a large scale if we worked at it.

To continue to depend on feast-orfamine industries shows a total lack of ingenuity or vision. Instead of looking to the horizon for the cavalry we had best organize our own troops and solve our own problems. We do live in paradise, so let’s take advantage of it and help preserve it before it becomes Paradise Lost. I get a little put out when I hear the statements so commonly quoted here: “It can’t be done” and “It won’t work.” With a credo like that, it sure won’t.

Galen Larson writes from rural Montezuma County, Colo.