The helicopters were insistently trying to find and rescue the young woman who lost her life on Crestone Peak last week. Impeded by weather and the famed inaccessibility of her last reported location, they finally stopped when her body was spotted below the ledge on which she had reported herself stranded.
The route she seems to have taken to her death is well marked. It appears to be a shortcut, but has led to many climbers’ deaths. And yet, it is still a trap for someone in a hurry to beat the changing weather or overconfident in their ability to defy collective experience.
It is not hard to find less tragic parallels with the agenda-ridden ambitions of some new residents of our community. Obviously, the results are not as dire, but the pain inflicted on the community ecosystem and their own life trajectory is unmistakeable. For how many years has the entrance to our beautiful little town been marred by an unfinished building in stages of decay? It was built by someone who had hardly lived here but had a grand plan. And unwisely, it turned out, the plan was approved by a town council eager for business revenues.
An oldtimer here when I arrived in the 1980s told me he didn’t even bother listening to someone’s ideas until they had lived here at least a year. Now that the community is larger and more complex and agendas can be super-amped with internet disinformation, I think we might want to wait even longer.
It is wonderful to get new blood in our community. Many of our loyal community servants are aging into a less energetic lifestyle and more mellow expectations for the future. Many of the skilled public administrators, craftsmen and professionals are “aging out”. Hooray for youth! Hooray for new ideas! But wouldn’t it be best for newcomers to work with what they find here for a while before infusing their enthusiasm into our veins?
If we are to preserve the special beauty of the land we have come to inhabit, we need to move slowly. A sentence about indigenous life in Diane Wilson’s The Seedkeeper struck me as what I wanted to impart to my wannabe “Crestone indigenous” neighbors here at the end of the road: “People don’t understand how hard it is to be Indian,” explains an elder. “I’m talking about a way of life that demands your best every single day. Being [an Indian] means every step you take is a prayer.”
I suspect there are already many people who live here making every step a prayer. Upon returning from a recent vacation I marveled at the different feeling tone created by being surrounded by natural beauty and acknowledging that beauty with gratitude. We are fortunate that lots of people here do lots of praying! Whether associated with the spiritual centers or just independently grateful, they take the Invisible seriously, knowing that we humans could not create this exceptional space in which we live our lives. And so we step respectfully, prayer-fully.
This is the commitment to this sacred land that I pray newcomers will make. Hopefully you are already deeply in love with our “plenty of nothing” and will help preserve it. Or perhaps it may take you a few years to decide if you can handle the hard work of being accountable to something so grand as earth and all her creatures. Bring your dreams, but take your time. Slow down. Watch your step. At the end of the road, earth matters.