September 14, 2017
American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
If you’re a birder/outdoor enthusiast shocked that the man now in the White House holds the idol he worships in his mirror above his party, his country, and his own species, I have two words for you.  John Hickenlooper.  I have no idea whether Hickenlooper, a Democrat now in his second term as Colorado’s governor, will run for President in 2020, but I believe he is the harbinger of our country’s ascent from its current madness.

An article I recently read outlined a typical day in Hickenlooper’s life and used it to question two prevailing political paradigms—identity politics are the best hope for those with a progressive social agenda, and the interior West is red because it’s rural.  First Hickenlooper addressed a conference of state water users, rural men in suits dining on steak, and from there he went to a conference of outdoor sports retailers where he was the only one in a suit surrounded by men and women in flannel and fleece eating box lunches.  The point made was that Hickenlooper knows his second audience is growing exponentially faster than the first, outdoor recreation is quickly outstripping agriculture in economic impact, and the simple reason is that people, read voters, want to live and work in urban centers with proximity to natural beauty.

I’ve heard it said genes often skip a generation.  I have five grandchildren, but only one has inherited the love of the outdoors which I inherited from my father and which certainly skipped over her father.  Intrigued by the Hickenlooper article, I called Jordan.  In Denver.  She and her fiancée moved there a couple years ago.  She has a degree in Earth Sciences and a Masters in Geology.  After some time with The Nature Conservancy interviewing Colorado landowners, she now works for FEMA as a geospatial risk analyst.

As an undergraduate Jordan was studying the distribution of species relative to climate and weather, and her “aha” moment came during field trips in a geology lab which questioned why landscapes look like they do.  This, in turn, led her into dendrochronology (tree ring growth).  She’s a scientist.  She loves being in nature and solving its puzzles.  But why Denver?

Jordan’s answers confirmed Hickenlooper’s insights.  Jordan and Joe are awestruck by the physical beauty of Colorado.  They camp and hike.  Cross country skiing is on the coming winter’s agenda, but the more immediate goal of their every other weekend rambling in the mountains on Colorado’s public lands is solitude.  During Jordan’s formative years we were not geographically close.  She had been only vaguely aware of my own failed thirty year quest to live and work in Colorado, and she let out a knowing laugh when I mentioned my worst nightmare was finding the perfect camping spot in the national forest only to have another camper set up within eyesight or earshot.  And she now recognizes and appreciates goldfinches and Steller’s Jays, so there is that too.

I am the eternal optimist, and I believe the Trump tide will turn.  Is already turning.  I believe people want to walk in beauty and to live in beauty, and I believe that refers to both physical beauty and to the beauty inherent in our species, regardless of color or creed.  I believe the demographics that will prevail will have more to do with where and how we choose to live, work, and play than with ethnic, gender, or faith identity.  I believe the interior West, with its natural beauty, will be a key to this.  Jordan relates one of the more surprising insights she’s had about Denver is that at parties, meetings, and conferences all anyone wants to talk about is last weekend’s outdoor adventure and their outdoor plans for next weekend, whereas “back East” all everyone ever talks about is their job.

I’d like to close this column with a quote from John Hickenlooper talking about his hopes to expand the trail system in Colorado, a state and perhaps a state of mind, where social credibility is gained by partaking of the beauty in the natural world rather than by accumulating wealth or screwing fellow businessmen.

“Let’s say you want to hike from Aspen up over the Maroon Bells and down to Crested Butte, six, seven hours.  I’ve done that.  I went over the Maroon Bells the second week in August.  The wildflowers were higher than my waist.  I’ll never forget that the rest of my life.”

I doubt we’ll ever see a tweet from Trump about Maroon Bells and its wildflowers.
Steller's Jay
Steller's Jay