On July 6, 1996 the Tashi Gomang stupa (the “big” stupa) was consecrated by an illustrious gathering of accomplished lamas, rinpoches and practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism. In his dedication, the very esteemed Bokar Rinpoche said that the stupa’s ability to remove obstacles and clarify one’s mind was, surprisingly, not just due to its meticulous design or the relics of masters that it contained, but rather to the countless hours of altruistic activity that went into its completion.
There is no doubt that altruistic activity is the lifeblood of this small, isolated community. We look to volunteers to protect and nurture us in so many ways. The perseverance of our business owners also bespeaks an altruistic commitment to this place and to all of us.
Taking advantage of recent cooler weather, I decided to exercise some altruistic muscle and set out with trash bags to clean up an area of public (yes, your) land. A couple of acres along a National Forest access road was beginning to be an unsightly dump.
The afternoon’s venture actually began better than expected. I had decided to walk with my glasses on so I could see the plastic lodged on cactus at a distance and the toilet paper left under trees. To my delight, I spotted an arrowhead before I even left my back yard! Ancient inhabitants left nothing but beauty behind.
The bags filled quickly with lots and lots of plastic bottles and packaging for food and beverages. There had been some feeble attempts to collect the garbage in black plastic bags, but these bags had disintegrated. Even buried bags had been unearthed by a wild creature, creating an unsightly mound of plastic and metal. If they had been securely buried, I might have left them for an imagined Colorado Archaeologist of 2521 to discover. But a garbage dump in the national forest cannot wait to become ancient and “interesting”. We want it beautiful here, don’t we?
As I collected, I tried to imagine the stories of those who had littered this beautiful piece of mother earth. I found a receipt from Walmart for March 21 of this year. Perhaps someone went to the woods to celebrate the first day of spring and became so enraptured with being there (or high) that they took leave of their sense of accountability to the earth and all her creatures? I was alarmed to discover wrapping for votive candles and even a partially burned candle. Open flames do not belong in our forest unless we want to lose our homes in addition to our very excellent neighbors, the trees.
Too many Walmart and Safeway bags littered cactus billboards. I wished some of the ubiquitous toilet paper had been deposited in these extra bags and removed. Much of this paper were sewer-clogging wipes that Water and Sanitation has requested that we not throw in the toilet. They don’t belong in the forest either! I thought of tracking down the explicitly-titled little book How to Shit in the Woods and place a copy in little free libraries near trailheads. Easier to summarize here: pack out your toilet paper, folks! Leaving no trace in our wilderness is a simple bit of altruism that means a lot!
As I write this, I honor the many altruists that have made this community a beautiful place to live. I think especially of a beloved Baca resident who is moving away. Katie Getchell for years has taken the public interest to heart and taken action. Fiercely protective of and accountable to our wilderness neighborhood, she organized protection of the South Crestone campground which was being damaged by overuse and extensive unsafe fire circles. She also installed and distributed wildfire warning signs at her own expense.
I trust many of our newcomers will join the neighbors who walk the extra mile for our special place. Like Katie, an extraordinary dancer and body worker, each of us can hope to integrate the spirit that called us here into a dance with earth and one another that fosters caring, wonder and delight.
Aloha Katie, and Mahalo!