As a kid, I loved to visit the Fenders on their ranch. They had the perfect old quintessential ranch house right by the road in Emma, and my sisters and I loved to run back and forth across their Wibbledy Bridge (wooden slats held together by rope.)
As an adult, I loved to show up unexpectedly at the Fenders' to find them in their respective recliners, buried under sheepskins, watching one nature show or another or the History Channel.
After Bill died I went by to see Pat and she told me to pick out something of Bill’s to keep. “Go choose something and bring it out here and I’ll let you know if you can have it.” She said. I walked to the bedroom looking for a memento; a keepsake to treasure and remind me of Bill. The Fenders were like a second-set of grandparents; always there, always supportive, always ready with a good ribbing.
As soon as I walked into the room I saw it, a wooden sign that read: Cowboy Diplomacy ~ the ability to tell someone to go to hell and have them look forward to the trip.
The older I get the more I appreciate the sign’s adage. And the more I appreciate Bill Fender’s sense of humor and attitude toward his neighbors. I’m trying to hear what he would say now, as the BLM gives away 1200 acres of public land at the base of Mt. Sopris to a second-third-fourth?? home-owner who seems hell bent on buying up the Crystal Valley and fencing off all the water. Just one more proponent driven land exchange to benefit a few while the public gets the short end of the stick.
As billionaires buy up the land all around us, I realize the importance of diplomacy because I do not understand their value system. Is buying up large pieces of property and then restricting access to all creatures more pleasurable than it sounds? I want to take them at their word and believe that the land will be preserved for future generations, protected from industry and development, but it’s counterintuitive to trust one out-of-towner over a local (albeit corruptible) process of government. And why should the appraisals for public land be a fraction of what they are for the surrounding (privately held) land? This reeks of a cyclical wave of new land barons for the next century.
I value things I learned from people like Bill Fender: honesty, integrity, humor and honor, for the land and all its inhabitants. Public lands are unique to the American West; no other country has so much invested in everyone. The concept itself is foreign to other governments, but here in the United States we claim to like a fair deal, with opportunity and equality for all. And here in the west, we have an invaluable asset in the lands that are open and accessible to EVERYONE. Not just the cronies of the owner of “the largest private ranch in Pitkin County.” Let’s clear this up once and for all; a ranch is a living, working thing with people and animals and broken down equipment everywhere. It is barely organized chaos filled with laughter and expletives, and if you’re really lucky, a Wibbledy Bridge. A rancher relates to the natural world around him and does not need interfere with migratory patterns or wildlife habitat.
I worry about the wildlife in these parts— and no, I don’t mean the hairy guys that attend parties on Red Mountain! This particular exchange is a lose-lose for the animals. We lose 1200 acres of raw land owned by all Americans in exchange for 600+ acres of prime developable space smack dab in the middle of wildlife habitat. The doe populations in both mule deer and elk are declining, with mule deer at their lowest number in 40 years. We continue to move farther and farther into their territory, forcing them to live in a smaller area (with less access to water) while we build mansions-called-cabins in the woods so we can ‘get away’ for a week or two. But the animals never get a vacation from humans. Hell, I need a vacation from humans. Uh oh, I’m starting to sound like Bill… I feel like eating nothing but ice cream for dinner and binge-watching Animal Planet. Either that or I’ll go get a bottle and camp out in the back of the truck until I goddamn good and well feel like it.