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Are our relationships at a healing junction?

Locations: Columns, Opinion Published

By Will Evans

A junction point is a meeting place where trails converge. In modern times we may think of an intersection where two streets or highways cross.

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Our world is much more than street intersections. Our world is a beautiful web of life-sustaining junction points. Originally, our ancestors were in direct relationship with the land and water — we were intimately fed by Mother Earth. Arvol Looking Horse, a Lakota spiritual leader, explains this traditional view in very few words, “The Earth is a source of life, not a resource.”

Most of us today are distanced from the web of life and depend on intermediaries — our food comes from stores. Here, we focus on a junction point, a specific connection, between where we shop for food and where we live. Relationships are alive at a junction point, and there is no place not to be respectful — and careful.

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Meeting places are essential to the healthy function of beings, as well as communities, and they are extraordinarily complex. Life-sustaining exchanges occur at junction points. Some vital junction points remain invisible. The oxygen needed for human metabolism depends on blood flow carrying an invisible byproduct of plant metabolism.

To feed myself, a continuous cooperative flow is necessary — through the junction points linking my nerves with muscles, moving my hands, arms, fingers, eyes and mandible as I put a spoonful of food into my mouth. Multiple junction points are involved in the processes of chewing, swallowing, digesting and absorbing this energy. As it is absorbed into my bloodstream, food fuels my movement, respect and gratitude for life.

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Eating is preceded by multiple junction points functioning cooperatively where seeds, soil, sun and water grow into healthy crops. Middle Thompson Creek is a flow of cooperation surrounded by fertility. Good-hearted intention is at the foundation of life in a community. For health to prevail at a meeting place, cooperative and goodhearted intention is necessary. 

Disease, toxins and violence can render junction points lifeless with relationships broken. Sometimes a forest heals, sometimes it becomes a desert wasteland. Sometimes refugees cannot find a place to flee. There are fewer and fewer sanctuaries.

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Carbondale and Satank are on Nuche (Northern Ute) ancestral land. Indigenous people of North America were generally of a common mind: valuing balance between human relationship with Earth and Sky. They knew that all of Earth is sacred. Each place is to be respected and treated with care.

In 1879, relationships changed. Following events at Meeker, the Nuche people were walked with a bayonet at their backs into Utah. The local land we are focused on became the Bar Fork Ranch.

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Harald “Shorty” Pabst, a rancher, purchased the Bar Fork to raise cattle and sheep. In 1953, he donated 350 acres to John and Anne Holden, founders of the Colorado Rocky Mountain School (CRMS). For years, the land served as a working ranch and Shorty was able to keep an eye on the health of the school as a trustee of CRMS. 

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Shorty was a lifelong rancher, and also a student of Wisconsin conservationist Aldo Leopold; he learned to see the big picture. He knew how much is “enough” and was also fully aware of the risks inherent in growth. As a rancher, Shorty learned to calculate the carrying capacity of a watershed — how many cow-calf pairs a pasture can support. 

He saw the consequences of overgrazing and knew developers were vulnerable to the same frailty, especially because many were obsessed with growth, with no sense of carry capacity. While a mayor of Aspen in the early 1960s, Shorty more than once opposed what he perceived to be unnecessary or unhealthy growth. He also opposed paving Independence Pass, which would increase access to Aspen from the east. Neither was he in favor of hosting the Winter Olympics in Colorado, which he said would damage the environment. 

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In the ‘70s, CRMS began selling land to developers. In 1997, Brian Huster, a California developer, purchased 19 acres. A sequence of “big box” plans finally resulted in a new City Market and high density housing project located on this land supporting a progression from indigenous, to mining and ranching, to commercial shopping and housing. As people recognize the world we know is collapsing, Carbondale is perceived as a sanctuary. Is there a risk we will outgrow the carrying capacity of this land and water?

Being able to see the big picture is important. But our industrious age has carried society away from the big picture and whole systems thinking. Skilled decision-makers are vulnerable to defining problems narrowly, without respect for relationships and junction points. Something has been lost in the progression from the indigenous age to the industrial age, from the information age into this time of pandemic, smart phones and gene editing. Was respect lost? 

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On the scale of a big box grocery store, the two olive drab boxes south of City Market are small. Nonetheless, I sense that Shorty would easily discern the consequences of these two utility boxes, resting on the south edge of the old Bar Fork Ranch at the junction of what is now Hendrick Drive and West Main Street. When Hendrick Drive was extended to the new City Market parking lot, the location of these boxes adversely impacted visibility of traffic traveling east along West Main.

To my knowledge these boxes have generated little or no public commentary nor interest. They are not invisible; compared to a human being, they are sizable. Is there a reluctance to speak about them and their consequences? Or, are we overly educated to be silently obedient and not ask questions? Were we trained to ignore the voice of our hearts? Have we been distracted by other events as a population traversing this junction? Hundreds of cars per day will travel through this junction when the high density housing is built out and Carbondale grows into its “new identity.” Is this a case of tunnel vision or a larger loss of respect?

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Only one other person I know acknowledges the danger I perceive at this junction. Will someone suffer unintended and unnecessary adverse consequences here? Some decisions do not dig deeply enough to account for consequences. When decisions are focused narrowly, as a result of a singular focus only on a for-profit objective, relationships suffer.

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When respect is absent, the junction between public and private interests becomes toxic. We know healthy meeting is essential to individual and collective well-being. Some of us have glimpsed the big picture and see we can regain our balance and do better than travel in a narrow focus looking only for disease or for profit. 

I find it nourishing to listen to elders who learned to play the long game in the wildness of places like Trappers Lake, north of Carbondale on the edge of the Flat Tops. Up to 150 years ago, Trappers Lake was a healthy junction point in a fraying net of nourishment embracing the Western Hemisphere. 

In the autumn of 1919, Arthur Carhart, a young man from Iowa, was sent by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to survey potential summer homesites around Trappers Lake. As Carhart surveyed through the serenity of the Engelmann spruce, he was filled with awe and awareness. Unbeknownst to him, the rhythm of his heart came into resonance with the rhythm of the Earth. A healing occurred within Carhart and his relationship with this place. He saw a paradox, a different reality as well as a subdivision. He saw Trappers Lake and the surrounding terrain to be something larger than USFS’ plans. He saw inherent beauty and glimpsed an image of honoring wildness into the future. 

What Carhart saw changed the USFS and human relationship with wildlands in America. Carhart was an early non-indigenous visitor to this location. He spent the remainder of his life searching to understand the vision and the responsibility for the Earth he experienced there. 

Carhart glimpsed a present moment and realized it could become an image of the future. As a result, he became a grandfather of America’s not “developing” wildlands. Carhart knew the consequences of a path dominated by subdividing. His life was lived remembering humans can live in a respectful relationship with Source. 

Later that year, Aldo Leopold read a wilderness initiative Carhart had authored. He was stirred as he read words from a man who had been gifted an image of beauty. In December 1919, Leopold rode a train north from New Mexico to Denver for a conversation with Carhart. He listened as Carhart related his encounter with Source at Trappers Lake. Shorty, in turn, listened to Leopold.

Elders, grandmothers and grandfathers see a lot of broken cups and dented fenders over the years and sometimes boil complex events down to a very few words. “Wish Shorty were here — and we were able to listen to what he would say about the location of these boxes.”

Can we see a future where humans are in balance with each other and the carrying capacity of Source? Can we be players in a story of healing relationships? Will we recognize if something is amiss and potentially dangerous, or will we be distracted?

As we look to this new year, when you next depart from City Market, instead of driving east toward Highway 133, go south. Go toward the mountain, out of the parking lot to the junction of West Main Street and Hendrick Drive. Stop at the junction. Look. The boxes are on your right. No clear vision!

Is this a metaphor for our current community relationships? Or, will we pause long enough at this junction point to regain our balance and step onto a path of healing?

Tags: #Bar Fork Ranch #City Market #Colorado Rocky Mountain School #healing #relationships #Shorty Pabst #Will Evans
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