Environmental Road Rage
The endless string of red ruby taillights, like a necklace outlining the curves of a sleeping beauty does not incite pleasurable images, rather it sends me into a rage. “How dare you cause a traffic jam in my mountains,” I scream in typical Coloradoan road rage. I swerve off to a frontage road only to get stuck behind Denver plates going under the speed limit. “Must be from California or Texas,” I fume as I yank my mother’s three-quarter ton pick-up into the on-coming lane to pass on a blind corner. It’s a normal Sunday drive home from work, taking an hour and a half to travel fifteen miles. I’m livid by the time I get home.
I am a native, said with condescension and righteous snobbery; born and raised (by my transplanted Californian mother) in Colorado’s beautiful mountains. I remember when Vail and Eagle were separate towns. I remember skiing when snowboarders were dangerous herds of out-of-control kids, before terrain parks and sick jibbers. I learned to drive on the switchbacks of Fall River Road, and lost kids in my high school to the unprotected cliffs of Oh My God Road. These mountains thirty miles west of Denver are my mountains.
Back in Colorado for a post-college internship, after spending four years attempting to pry open my mind, I was conflicted in a new way. They were still my mountains; but my driver’s license had Oregon written across the top. Still a native I get pulled over so the cop can verify that I am my mother’s daughter, and oh how I’d grown. I now understand economy and the need to relocate for the numerous reasons that life proposes, but my mountains are being trampled by thousands of summer-heat melting Denverites. Heading west and up to break from city heat, they hike off trails increasing erosion; they start camp fires without rings, not putting them out completely; they invade small tourist towns making daily life for residents nearly impossible; their kids graffiti rocks; their trash floats down creeks; their million dollar houses destroy entire mountain slopes, creating uninteresting views and displacing wildlife. They are destroying the mountains that I love. It seemed an unstoppable spiral motivated by an unreasonable expectation of ownership (theirs and mine) and economics.
Then I saw Colorado 1870-2000, by William H. Jackson & John Fielder. This photo history of Colorado compared landscape photos taken by Jackson in the 1800’s with photos taken by Fielder from the same spots in 2000. The comparisons showed once seemingly booming towns, now empty meadows desecrated by harsh winters or wildfires. Growing population centers then, now Lake Dillon. For pages the then and now photos showed me that though I worried for my docile mountains, they always had the upper hand. Blizzards; rock, mud and snow slides; floods, fire, wind, and draught have kept man’s transgressions in check far as long as man has attempted to inhabit the folds of the Rockies and conquer their peaks.
Once in a while out-of-town drivers force a scream from behind my steering wheel for their incessant braking, but now I worry less for my powerful mountains loved my Mother Nature herself, and I laugh when I hear of her demolishing storms and construction thwarting weather and plate movements. Millions of years from now, she will be here and we will not, and I’m ok with that.