Captains Courageous

My son-in-law’s sister, April, is married to a commercial fisherman who works in the North Pacific.  With her six month daughter in tow, she is visiting my daughter’s family here in Denver from her home in a small community on the Oregon coast.  She needs the break: her husband, Keith, left for the Gulf of Alaska in January.  He won’t be home until April.

My wife was in Spokane for the weekend visiting our younger daughter.  So I got an invitation from my other daughter to come to her home for a Korean dinner.    It was delicious: kimchi (my very Caucasian daughter’s contribution to the meal), barbecued Korean ribs, sticky rice, seaweed wraps, spicy pork wrapped in marinated sesame leaves.  It was a sister and brother effort; although they are half Caucasian, they learned well at the apron stings of their full blooded Korean mother.

I don’t know much about Keith; I’ve only met him once.  But I am curious about his life as a fisherman.  Over dinner, I asked April about his work.

“What are they fishing for? What’s his boat like?”

“They’re fishing for pollock; it’s a mid-water fish”


“It’s not a bottom fish like cod or flounder.   Fishing for them is dirty.  That’s what Keith’s father is doing now with his boat up in the Bering Sea.  His boat broke down recently and had to be towed in.”

“So how big is Keith’s boat?”

“It’s about 100 feet long.”

“And how many people are on it?”

“Three: Keith and two hands that work the back where the net is.”

“Three people for a 100 foot boat?  That’s amazing.  How many fish do they catch?”

“He called the other day and said it’s been going pretty well.  They came into port a few days ago with 150,000 pounds.”

“A 150,000 pounds for three people?!  How many tons is that?”

The three of us kicked it around for a few minutes and then, laughing, gave up.  And April has a degree in accounting.  But now, my iPhone tells me it’s 75 tons.

“How do they run a ship that big with three people? ”

“Well, the deck hands manage the net.  The greenest does the cooking.  The hands get to rest when they are looking for fish.  But Keith might go 48 hours without sleeping.  He has to drive the ship, pay attention when the net is going out and when they bring it back in with fish.  And the rest of the time he has to try to find the fish with the radar.  But he gets a nap sometimes.”

“I bet the food’s nothing to write home about.”

“That’s true.”  She paused.  “It’s dangerous work.  One boat in the fleet has already gone down without a trace this season.  And another wound up on the rocks and the crew had to be rescued.”

The discussion ended as the meal did.  My two and a half year old granddaughter, Bridget, was becoming increasingly restive.  The two infants had been in bed even before I arrived for dinner. I read Bridget a book.  The other adults cleaned up and then went to the living room.

The book finished, I looked up and noticed that April was on her cell phone.  I didn’t give it much thought except that it was, perhaps, a bit odd that she be on her phone with all that was going on.  “But,” I reasoned to myself, “isn’t everyone on their ‘device’ virtually all the time?”  With that, I went into the living room also and took a chair near April.

It was only then that I realized that April was talking to Keith as he steered his boat back out to the fishing grounds from where they’d been in port.  When I did, I hurridly moved back to the kitchen table.  I felt like I had interrupted something sacred.  Even more so when I heard, from across the room, “I love you.  We miss you.  And I’ll be praying for you.”

When I got home that night I did a quick google search on the hazards of commercial fishing.  It was worse than April let on; it is the most dangerous job in the country.

That was Friday night.  On Sunday, I went to Haden and Lauren’s church so I would have the opportunity to see April and her daughter before they went home.  Chloe, like her mother, is beautiful.  Gentle, almond eyes.  A ready smile in a broad face.

After the sermon, which was a good one, we were invited to come to the front and receive the bread and wine.  “You can also light a candle off to the side if you would like.”

With the rest of the congregation, I shuffled forward.  After receiving the elements, I lit a candle for Keith and his family.  And his comrades who have gone down to the sea.

Next time you pass the fish case in your grocery store, I invite you, in sprit, to do likewise.








Cognitive Dissonance

My wife and I had the fun of baby sitting our two young granddaughters the other evening while our daughter and her husband got a little time to themselves.

After dinner, I suggested to my older granddaughter, Bridgette, that we toddle around the corner to see our elderly friend, Marsha.   It wasn’t a hard sell.  A long time favorite among neighborhood children because of her habit of passing out tootsie roll pops to any of the little beggars who show up at her front door, Marsha greeted us warmly as the porch light came on.  This despite the fact that two and a half year old Bridgette asked for her treat even before she said hello to Marsha.

With Bridgette on my lap, Marsha and I caught up on neighborhood news around the kitchen table.  Her daughter was well.  So was my family.

Then Marsha said something that caught me by surprise.  “I suppose you like how Trump is handling things.”  The look on her face made it perfectly clear that she didn’t.

Although I certainly knew that she was aware that I had served in the Colorado House for eight years, I didn’t remember ever discussing politics with her before.  And it definitely wasn’t my intent to begin that night.  I answered with what I trusted was a non-confrontational, “Yes, I do support him.”  And left it at that.  To my relief, she did too.

A few minutes later, the three of us pushed back from the table and made our way to the counter on which the jar holding the candy sat.  Taking it in her slightly arthritic hands, Marsha held the jar down where Bridgette could contemplate its apparently inexhaustible riches.  Having made her selection, Marsha reminded Bridgette that it had to wait until we got home.  And, she added, “It’s very important that you don’t run with the sucker in your mouth.”  Spoken like a real expert on the subject of suckers and kids.

Marsha put away the sucker jar.  And then said something else that came as revelation.  Tearing up, she told me that a nephew on her deceased husband’s side is dying of cancer.

“I’m so sorry,” I said.  “Does he have a family?”

“Yes, a wife and two young children.  And, short of a miracle, there really isn’t any hope for him.”

“Oh, Marsha,” I said, “I am so sorry.  Any idea of how he got it?”

“Yes,” she said, “he was a fireman in New York on 9/11.  All that dust . . .”  Her voice trailed off and she went to a cupboard and pulled out a white coffee mug. It read, “Never give up the fight.”

“They’ve given these out to show support for the family.”  Her eyes were glistening.

I rubbed her back; I should have given her a hug.  “I’ll pray for him,” I promised.

Hand in hand, Bridgette and I walked home a few minutes later.  Shortly thereafter, amidst the usual hugs, kisses, bustle, sucker and confusion, we bid our daughter and her family goodnight.

It didn’t occur to me until some time later how strange the conversation with Marsha had been.

She doesn’t like how Trump is handling things.  Exactly what she meant, I don’t know.  I didn’t ask.

But I do know that her immediate family has been directly and tragically impacted by Islamic terror.  Her nephew’s wife is likely to be a widow.  The nephew’s young children are likely to be fatherless.

Maybe Marsha doesn’t like a whole host of other things that President Trump is doing.  But wouldn’t utilizing “extreme vetting” on immigrants trying to get to the US from Islamic countries well known to harbor terrorists cover a multitude of other Presidential sins when your own family has been so terribly scarred?  Evidently not.

But, in a larger sense, Marsha’s disapproval is understandable, perhaps even natural.  She is elderly-around 80.  How can she resist the relentless barrage of propaganda masquerading as news that has declared it is an illegitimate interest of our nation to control our borders.   To-gasp!-benefit the citizens of our country, rather than foreigners? And now our black robed judges, in all their august sanctimony, are piling on, joining in the chorus of Presidential denunciations.

Of course, Marsha believes that all right thinking people agree that the President is wrong.

But why are so many feminists, unless they are willfully ignorant of how women are treated in fundamentalist Islamic countries, protesting the President’s travel ban?  And, for that matter, why are so many gays joining in the sometimes violent protests, when, according to a June, 2016 Washington Post article, homosexual acts can be punished by death in 10 Muslim countries?  Most of these types, presumably, aren’t laboring under the limitations of advancing years.

It would be nice to think that what they are doing is a courageous, sacrificial example of turning the other cheek to one’s enemies.  But that’s pretty hard to swallow.  How do the cursings, beat downs, burning and rioting that are directed at President Trump and his supporters square with loving your enemies?  At the very least, it’s an odd way to pick your enemies:  love those that are trying to kill and maim you.  And hate those that are trying to protect you.

Enough rice for two Asians

My wife and I were at a Vail condo this past weekend with my daughter Lauren, her husband, Haden, and their one and a half year old daughter, Bridget.

Being grandparents is all that it’s cracked up to be:  a blast.  And there are two more grandkids on the way this year!  Does that qualify as a small nuclear (family) explosion?

My son-in-law is half Korean; his father was stationed there during the Vietnam war where he flew B-52s and met his Korean wife.  On top of being a computer whiz, Haden has an exceedingly dry and entertaining sense of humor.  On Sunday morning for breakfast Bridget had rice left over from the night before.  And then more rice.  While the rest of us had bagels and lox.   Talk about an all-American, ethnically confused breakfast.  And family.

As Haden left the breakfast table, Bridget in his arms, I bragged, she “Sure has a good appetite.”  “Yeah,” Haden replied, looking at his daughter, “you eat enough rice for two Asians.”

With that, we headed our separate ways.  Grandma took her grand daughter on her first gondola ride. Lauren and Haden wandered around the village.

I did what I often do on a Sunday morning in Vail:  went to the Mount of the Holy Cross Lutheran service at the small, but beautifully simple interfaith chapel.  Unlike so much of the rest of Vail, the service, and the chapel, were anything but glitzy.  If I told you that there were 20 people there, it would be a stretcher.  Which is a shame; the pastor, Scott Beebe, crafts sermons that deserve a wider audience. In fact, several years ago, one of his sermons served as a jumping off point for a brief speech I delivered while still in the legislature at a Veteran’s Day observance in Denver’s Civic Center park and which eventually found its way into a guest commentary for the Denver Post.  So, despite Scott’s outstanding efforts, a small turn out at church isn’t a surprise. The competition on a sun soaked Sunday morning at a world class ski resort in the heart of the Colorado Rockies is intense.

The sermon was the quintessential illustration of the axiom that “Facts tell, but stories sell”; it didn’t really grab my attention until Scott got to the story that came near the end.

Scott told of talk he’d had with a Denver pastor/friend who was administering the Eucharist to nursing home shut ins.  The pastor admitted to Scott that, to a mortifying degree, he was going through the motions; it had been a long and demanding week.  And so it went until he got to the last room, the one where Lucile lived, a widow, hard of hearing, nearly blind, having lost virtually everything except life itself.  The communion service didn’t go well in Lucile’s room; he spilled grape fruit juice on his slacks.  The Eucharist over, the pastor patted Lucile’s shoulder, uttered a prayer, told her that God loved her.  And, breathing a sigh of relief under his breath, said goodbye as he headed for the door.

But before he got out of the room, Lucile began praying herself, in a voice full of love and gratitude: “Thank you God for being so good to me.  Thank you God for loving me.  Thank you God for not forgetting me.”

Stunned, the pastor dropped back into his chair next to Lucile.  There was a long silence.  “And,” as Scott recounted the pastor’s story, “there was almost as if there was a fragrance in the air.  And I didn’t want to leave because this was the most sacred moment of the entire week.  This blind woman could see something I couldn’t see.  She could hear a music to which I had grown deaf.  And I stayed because I knew she had something to teach me.”

Scott closed his message by drawing in a lung full of air.  And asking us, “Can you smell what that pastor smelled in Lucile’s room?  Can you hear the music he heard in her room?  Can you see what she sees?”

“There is, I think, a fragrance right here in this room.  Can you smell it?”

Yes, I think I could.  And I don’t think I was the only one in room who could.  Nor who thought that those were some of the most sacred moments of the week.






My wife and I drove into Denver the other evening for a night out. As we emerged from the Alameda underpass going north on I-25,  several locomotives leading a coal train south thundered by on the tracks just to our right.

As we neared Colfax, the Zuni power plant’s stacks skewered the evening sky on the west side of the Platte River to our left.

The sinews of a modern industrial nation.  But largely for environmental reasons, the continued viability of both appears to be in question.  At this point, the general contours of what is driving these developments are both well publicized and well known.  What may surprise, however, is what is not being said.

Originally coal fired, the Zuni plant is part of the world’s oldest continuously operated commercial heating district.  Powered by natural gas now, it has been producing steam and electricity since  it came on line in 1900.  This particular station is slated to be closed as early as 2017, but there is a need for other plants to fill the demand for steam when it is gone.

As for coal, its future seems to be even more tenuous-at least in this country.  In 2010, HB-1365 was introduced in the Colorado General Assemble to shutter a number of Front Range coal fired power plants to convert them to natural gas.  Given the moniker, “The Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act“, I was one of the few members of the House, of either party, who voted against it.

The politics of the bill were confused.  Republicans of my party supported it because it appeared to be an easy way to burnish their environmental credentials by supporting the replacement of coal with cleaner burning, but more expensive, natural gas.  It was also a bone for the West slope natural gas industry that was then struggling with low prices and excess supply.

Democrats, and their environmentalist backers, supported it because natural gas is perceived as a “bridge fuel“, transitioning us from reliance on “dirty fossil fuels” of all sorts and, ultimately, leading to a rapid change over to very expensive (and less reliable ) “renewable” alternatives, such as solar and wind.

After breezing through the House, the initial bi-partisan consensus largely dissolved in the Senate. It become political hot potato for its Republican sponsor, former Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, among his more conservative colleagues.  And, in fact, may have played a role in the demise of his gubernatorial aspirations.

Be that as it may, when Governor Bill Ritter signed the bill into law it marked the beginning of the ongoing “War on Coal” in Colorado.  And a minor skirmish in the same battle on a national scale.

The impetus behind 1365 came from a host of Colorado environmental groups and their national associations.

Ironically, however, there is an elephant in the environmental room that is being entirely ignored by the very same organizations: our nation’s soaring population, eighty-some percent of which is driven by immigration, both legal and illegal.  How do I know it’s being ignored?

Because I asked. Pam Kiely is one of the Colorado’s most prominent environmental lobbyists. In 2012, a I co-sponsored a bill that would have required all employers to use the E-Verify system to confirm that job applicants were in the US legally at the time of hire.  The effect of the bill would have been to eliminate the employment magnet that draws so many illegals to Colorado.  If you think the bill would be a great fit for environmental groups concerned about the preservation of natural our resources, you would be wrong.  When I asked Kiely why her organizations couldn’t support my legislation, she gave the evasive reply, “We need to look at the population issue on a global scale.  Not just in the US.”

Well, that might be so.  But before we start worrying about what’s going on in, say, China or Africa, why don’t we try to address the issue right in our own back yards?  Of course, some claim that it is “racist” to even discuss the connection between pollution and US immigration policy. But who, with a straight face, can deny that a country of 417 million by as early as 2051 isn’t going to generate more pollution, less open space, more trash, more endless housing tracts, more traffic, and more crowded schools than is currently the case for a nation of 319 million?  And if nearly 100 million more people isn’t going to result in more climate change, et cetera, when will the tipping point be reached?  And do we really want to find out?

So what caused Pam Kiely’s environmental groups, including the venerable Sierra Club, to morph from the organization that helped triggered population alarmism by playing a key role in the publication of Paul Erich’s 1968 best seller, The Population Bomb to the Dr. Stangelovian posture of no longer worrying and, instead, loving the population bomb?  At least as it concerns the United States.

If you guessed money, you’re right.  In fact, a cool $200 million.  In an October 27, 2004 story reported by the Los Angles Times, it was revealed that ultra-rich donor, David Gelbaum, demanded that the Club change its long held position resisting the flood of immigrants into this country, despite any environmental harm that would result.  Kenneth Weiss, author of the Times article, quoted  Gelbaum as saying this to the Club’s Executive Director, Carl Pope:

“I did tell Carl Pope in 1994 or 1995 that if they ever came out anti-immigration, they would never get a dollar from me.”

So, over the protests of many of its less affluent but more environmentally conscientious members, including former Colorado Governor Richard Lamm, the Sierra Club backed down from its long held stance on immigration.  And pocketed the cash.

As my wife and I drove home after our night out, we stopped at a light behind a ramshackled, exhaust belching vehicle headed toward I-25 across the street from the REI flagship store.  The car had Mexican plates.  Two things crossed my mind:  are the occupants here legally?  And do they have insurance?  I don’t know.  But, political correctness aside, what would your guess be?

The United States is already the world’s third most populous country.  It also has the highest population growth rate of all developed countries-almost entirely due to immigration, legal and illegal.  Is it important that we take reasonable measures to protect our environment?  Yes.  But I voted against HB-1365 anyway because I don’t like the idea of the government picking favorites in the energy business.  Especially when consumers, particularly low income consumers, suffer in the process.   But legislation such as 1365-and even more draconian measures-will simply be overwhelmed by a tidal wave of immigrants if we are not willing to face the real issue-immigration fueled population growth-squarely.  And, dare I say it, adopt the immigration policies that were for so long held by The Sierra Club?









My wife and I were in the mountains a couple weekends ago.  On Saturday, we drove to Sylvan Lake State Park, just south of I-70 at the Eagle exit and one of the crown jewels of our state park system.  The trail around the lake is an easy walk and I enjoyed asking the many fisher folk along the banks and in their canoes “How many have you caught?”  The usual answer was “None”, despite the lake being generously stocked with trout.

As we neared the end of our circuit, I asked a Dad who was patiently helping his little kids with their fishing tackle, how many they had.  “None,” he replied, “but I have three little kids.”  Enough said.

I moved on to talk with the mother who was helping another of the children.

But just as I began, something caught my eye.  Not more than a 100 yards away, two Bald Eagles were slowly descending to the surface of the lake.  Almost before I could blurt out, “Hey, there are some Bald Eagles!”, one of them had landed on the lake for the briefest moment and then taken off again.  As they did so, they turned 180 degrees and flew right over us, low and clear.  Just visible behind the bird’s magnificent white head, was a fish, still struggling to get free.

I guess not all of Sylvan Lake’s anglers got skunked that day.

What more can one add to what has already been said about the Bald Eagles as our nation’s emblem, a symbol of hope and pride?  Probably not much.  Except, perhaps, to take issue with what Benjamin Franklin said when told that the Bald Eagle was going to be on the nation’s Great Seal.  He disapproved because the great bird, allegedly, “does not get his living honestly” and steals his food from other birds that do.

I hesitate to argue with the “sage of America“.  But Ben Franklin didn’t see what I saw the other day at Sylvan Lake.

And, in fact, the more pertinent issue may be just the reverse: has America so lost her way that she is no longer worthy of her grand national emblem? Consider:

  • Ignoring George Washington’s warning in his Farewell Address,  we are bogged down in endless, costly and bloody foreign wars.   That have earned us the enmity of much of the world-without adding materially to our national security.
  • Despite spending more on defense than the combined expenditures of the next seven countries, we haven’t won a war since WWII.
  • We have done a great job of enriching the Military Industrial Complex that President Eisenhower cautioned us against.  And, in the process, done a no less admirable job of causing the national debt to explode.
  • According to a listing of the US State Department, we have promised to go to war to defend more than 54 countries in remote corners of the globe:  Iraq, the Ukraine, South Korea, Yemen, Israel, Japan, etcetera, ad nauseum, and ad infinitum.
  • Which nations, in most cases, are perfectly content to play the part of defense Welfare Queens to America’s defense Sugar Daddy.  And, unsurprisingly, when the chips are down, seem just as likely to cut and run as defend their own countries.

And, to make matters worse, when it comes to our own national interests and borders, we act like there’s a Sugar Daddy out there who will bail us out.  There isn’t.  Instead, paralyzed by the fear of offending the political correctness and diversity gods, we don’t have the nerve to defend our own southern border from a relentless invasion.  Which, as Ann Coulter unflinchingly points out in her book, Adios, America!, will turn our country into a “Third World Hellhole” unless halted.

In the world of “legal eagles,” a common compensation system is know as “Eat What You Kill.”  In other words, each partner keeps the revenue he is responsible for generating, after subtracting shared expenses.  While I don’t claim to be an ornithologist, from what I saw of our national emblem the other day, Benjamin Franklin was wrong.  The Bald Eagles I saw were engaged in a form of “Eat What You Kill.”  They swooped down and snatched their own meal from Sylvan Lake.

But the fact that they were stealthy, skillful and aggressive, doesn’t mean that they were meddling in what didn’t concern them.  And picking fights, spilling American blood and treasure, to satisfy ancient and outmoded treaty obligations.  The Bald Eagles I saw were tending to their own knitting, protecting what was rightfully theirs.  Not picking fights where they were neither wanted or needed.

America could take a lesson from its national emblem.




Jumbo shrimp.  Sweet sorrow.  Open secret.  Seriously funny.  Liquid gas.  Recreation industry.

My wife and I were in Vail over the weekend.  Something called the “GoPro Mountain Games” was packing them in.  “GoPro Heros” are those small video cameras that some folks attach to their ski helmets, four wheelers, or kayaks to record in, numbing and disorienting detail their self-proclaimed “heroic” antics and exploits.

The modern version, in other words, of those equally numbing and jittery 16 mm home movies that our folks used to make about summer vacations.  And then punish friends and family by making them watch them.  Before, mercifully, consigning them to some dusty box in the attic.  Where they stayed until they were rooted out decades later and shown to howling family members as they recovered from a turkey induced coma after Thanksgiving dinner.

At least, that’s how we sometimes do things at our house.

The GoPro Mountain Games or, for that matter almost any other aspect of the “recreation industry” is, when you think about it, a seriously funny notion.  As if there were such a thing as “industrialized recreation”.

Which, in reality, there is.  It’s called skiing.  Think about it; I did the last time I sat on a lift contemplating the scene in my curmudgeonly way.  The skier “bolts” on his equipment-skiis, boots, poles, helmet, goggles, etc.  The “product”-the skier-is then put on the “assembly line”-the lift (for which privilege you pay a pretty penny).  Which deposits the product at the other end of the assembly line-the top of the run.  Where, if you are like the great majority of us skiers, you pay even more over a period of years to have assembly line workers-ski instructors-make the product fit to go down ever steeper assembly lines, the ski run, at ever higher rates of speed.

Call me crazy, but I don’t think the comparison with Henry Ford’s assembly line and Detroit-before that now benighted city became the Mogadishu of the West-is entirely inapt.

“Extreme sports” are even more bizarre-and scarcely less industrialized.  Base jumping, solo free climbing, motocross. The deaths and maimings these “recreational” activities generate remind one of the scene in “Gone with the Wind” where Southerners are bemoaning the casualty lists from a “little town in Pensylvania called Gettysburg.”  At least in war you can occasionally, even if not often, plausibly claim that the sacrifice is for a higher purpose.   But where’s the “higher purpose” in a sport where, if you slip up, the almost certain consequence is death?  It seems more like another oxymoron to me:  self-destructive narcissism.

So what should recreation look like?  A good question. And not one susceptible to a glib answer.  Especially in an age where work  has, in so many cases, become so utterly deracinated from its historic connection to physical activity.   Rodeos were a natural recreational outgrowth of ranching.  But what is the recreational corollary of sitting in front of a computer screen all day?  Computer games? I suppose so.  But a virtual reality seems a pale substitute for the real thing.  At least to this old curmudgeon.

Perhaps it would be helpful to go back to basics.  The Latin root meaning of “recreation” suggests rest and renewal: “to create anew, restore, refresh.”  The virtual polar opposite of “industry“: “the habit of working hard and steadily”.  And, even more alien still to the notion of renewal and restoration, is the industrial ideal of how many people can you pay the least amount possible to make your particular segment of the recreation industry as profitable as possible to you and your shareholders.  A notion that most, I hope, would find entirely foreign and offensive to the idea of “recreation”.

But, that being said, my real issue is not so much that we may have to “work” at our recreation.  It does, after all, require a concerted effort to shut out all the distractions of our hyper active lives.  On a regular basis, I participate in silent weekend retreats at the Sacred Heart Retreat House in Sedalia.  A wonderful place to get away and refresh-I highly recommend it.  But is does take an effort.  And the Jesuit retreat masters there, like the ski instructors in Vail, turn out a “product”:  in one case satisfied retreatants and, in the other, satisfied skiers.

In the end, however, while I am willing to concede that there are similarities between the types of “re-creation” that goes on in Vail and that which occurs at the Retreat House, they aren’t the same.  Recreation, rightly conceived, is not an industry.  And it has every right to claim a special, more sacred place in our lives.





Creating my own blog site

For a guy nearly eligible for Social Security, this is pretty techie stuff! At least my daughter was impressed-who, for this kind of thing, relies almost entirely on her VERY techie husband.

Why “Formerly Honorable”?

I was at the dentist’s getting my teeth cleaned today.  As is the customary practice in such circumstances, the pleasant young hygienist asked me a question that I couldn’t answer til I had finished swishing out my mouth and she had sucked the fluid away with the little straw.

“Are you still in the legislature?”

“No,” I replied, flat on my back, peering through the protective dark glasses, “I was term limited out of office last January.” Before she plunged her hands back in my mouth, I managed to get out, “You can now call me the ‘formerly honorable'”.

She chuckled.  “So you haven’t done anything wrong? But what did you think of your time down at the Capital?  Was there anything in particular you were able to accomplish?”

My answer, while necessarily abbreviated, was the one I usually give:  it was a great 8 year run. I wouldn’t have missed it.  But I was also ready to move on; I’ve gone back to my insurance business and we have a wonderful new grand daughter (our first) who lives just down the road.  Did I achieve anything of particular note?  I bobbed and weaved:  I was only one of 100 Colorado legislators.  But I met a bunch of wonderful people; it’s almost impossible not to when you have spent countless hours during four campaigns knocking on countless doors talking to countless constituents.

So the plan is that this blog will play some part in the next stage of this “formerly honorable” politician’s life.  Give me a platform to comment, occasionally, on those things that I think need commenting on.  Maybe even on the hygienist herself; a bright, lovely young woman three years married who, when I ventured that her parents would probably like to see grandkids of their own replied, “We like our life as it is.  And we like our dogs.”

Go figure.  And stay tuned.

Little Britches

Ralph Moody, the author of the Little Britches series of memoirs/novels, is Colorado’s memoirist/novelist laureate.  Think I’m  exaggerating?  Check him out.  In a Colorado that seems increasingly like a state seized with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Moody’s gently riveting stories come from a different time.  But not a different place-even though Moody might have a hard time recognizing them after the passage of more than a 100 years.  Moody’s south Denver environs was ranches, small farms, narrow gauge railroads, and cattle drives.  Not housing developments, mega-malls, and golf courses.

I first read the books growing up as a kid living in south-east Denver in the 1950’s.  It was a time when on a summer afternoon my friends and I could walk the few blocks from home at 1st and Holly to the gravel road on the north bank of the Cherry Creek-and know that we had gone from the city to the country.  And, a few years later, drive to just east of Cherry Creek Reservoir with my Dad and brother and go dove hunting with out bothering a soul.

So picking up the first book in the series as a grade schooler and reading about the hard scrabble life of dry land farmer near Littleton regularly sparked satisfying flashes of recognition of names and places I knew. But, more importantly, the sometimes hilarious, sometimes harrowing adventures of an ingenious, hard working boy about my own age was more than enough- to keep me turning the pages.  That the book was beautifully written as well probably went right over my head.  But taken together, it went down like a frosty glass of lemonade on a blazing summer afternoon when I had only half finished cutting the lawn with our balky push mower.

With titles like, “Little Britches”, (who remembers the Little Britches rodeo?) “Man of the Family”, and “The Fields of Home”, the series goes on for a total of eight books.  I read most of them when I was a kid.  But not all.  That may  have been because Moody hadn’t finished writing them at that time (he would have been about 60 in the late ’50’s) or because (I hope not) I had put “childish things behind me.”  While children can, and should, delight in a writer of Moody’s caliber, adults should as well.  Unless their tastes have been so corrupted that if they “didn’t have bad taste, they wouldn’t have no taste at all.”

I never forgot Little Britches.  But I didn’t come back to it until I had three children of my own-all boys except two girls.  I remember the night distinctly.  I gathered Byron, about 12 or 13, Lauren, a couple of years younger, and Jocelyn, two years younger still, in Lauren’s room.  And began reading.  Within the first few pages, this lyrical passage, redolent with memories of my Denver childhood appeared:

“We could see our new house from a couple of miles away.  We knew it must be ours because, cousin Phil had told us it was three and a half miles west of Fort Logan-the first house on the Morrison wagon road.  From the hill beyond the Fort, it looked like a little doll house sitting on the edge of a great big table, with a brown table cloth smoothed out flat all around it. . . Away toward the south there were brown rolling hills, as though the table cloth had been wrinkled a little.  And not far beyond it, toward the west, the hogbacks rose like big golden-brown loaves of bread sitting on the table.  High above them the snowcaps of the Rockies glistened in the afternoon sunlight.”

To my dismay, only Lauren stuck with it after that first night.  I suppose that Byron, already a voracious speed reader with eclectic tastes even then bending toward sic-fi, found that the pace was too slow.  Not quite sure about Jocelyn, but a story about ranch life at a 100 year remove-even a ranch no more than a dozen miles from our home-was probably a bridge too far for a third grade girl.  (I am pleased, however, to be able to report that Jocelyn and I read other stories together.)

Lauren and I, however, spent bedtimes for the next two to three years, heads propped on pillows, making our way through the Moody canon.  Many nights, she was asleep by the time I finished reading, gave her a kiss, turned out the light, and shut the door.  Occasionally, but not often, I had to work to persuade her to stick with it.  Her greatest fear, as we drew near the end of the series, was that I would tell her friends that her father was still reading bedtime stories to a seventh or eighth grade girl.  I had to swear myself to secrecy.  I trust that even if I have now violated that oath, the daughter who has now made me a doting grandfather, will be easy on me.

Within the last year, I went back and read the Little Britches books yet again.  They still went down easy.  Are they literary masterpieces?  You be the judge.  But I challenge anyone to show me something by a Colorado author that’s in the same league.  And don’t give me any non-sense that these are “kids books”.  So is “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn”.

Also within the last year, I read George Elliot’s “Middlemarch”.  Considered perhaps the greatest Victorian novel, Middlemarch is a story of English country life.  Somewhere along the way I also came across “My Life in Middlemarch” by Rebecca Mead, an English transplant who now lives in New York and writes for the New York Times.   Mead so admires Elliot’s book, that she produced what is termed a bibliomemoire-which Joyce Carol Oates defines as “a subspecies of literature combining criticism and biography with the intimate, confessional tone of autobiography.”

Is a bibliomemoire based on “Little Britches” in store for me?  Who knows.  My daughter Lauren already thinks I’m obsessed with the books.  But maybe obsession is precisely what is required for such an undertaking.