The world has turned upside down. As record-breaking cold threatened heating-fuel shortages in typically warmish climes from the East Coast to Texas early this week — with, can you believe it, snow in Florida? — we were re-resetting our own records right here in Gunnison. For warmth.
Bruce Bartleson’s email Sunday morning titled “Records” made me choke on my toast. “Yes, we did hit several records in the past few days!” it read. This from the guy that gets paid big bucks by the Times for proving how far off track we are in our perceptions of recordsetting weather. Like how last July’s gully-washing monsoons actually paled in comparison to torrential rains of the same month in 1911 that beckoned Noah and his Ark.
Despite the hot and dry winter we’re having, travelers last week flocked to ski hills throughout Colorado, filling skinny white runs surrounded by brown in an apparent attempt to set records of their own.
As an Aspen Times columnist suggested, “We are no longer a ski town. We are a tourist attraction! How else can we explain so much business with so little snow on the slopes?”
We could wonder the same. But if there’s one thing I learned in 2017, it’s not to be surprised by what unfolds, and the last week has proven a fitting end to a year filled with head-scratchers. The exact opposite of what’s expected can, and will, occur.
We saw it most clearly in new-found strain between up-valley and down-valley relations. After a year of folks coming together and voicing their hopes for the future of our valley in an overtly orchestrated but at least well-meaning effort led by local government leaders aimed at “prosperity,” the kumbaya chorus fell silent in 2017.
One project — intended to address a problem that just about everyone agrees needs attention: affordable housing — proved to be the wedge that is now driving us farther apart. The end of a long-standing arrangement for law enforcement at the north end of the valley was a hammer on the blunt end of the wedge, and what was “we” a year ago has devolved to “us” and “them.”
Mention “Brush Creek” and listen to how quickly the conversation turns to where one lives in the valley or for which big employer they work. What was intended to be an affordable housing solution is now tagged an effort to flood the valley with people, stop lights and cookie-cutter development.
Don’t believe the hype. It’s easy to slide toward the pitfall of division so pervasive at the top of today’s politics. However, the up-valley, down-valley divide is little more than a diversion from dealing with tough problems head-on.
I say this not in hopes of provoking warm and fuzzy feelings we have for one another. Rather, it’s in the interest of maximizing the return of our collective efforts in a day when the north and south ends of the valley are more connected than ever — and becoming more so.
A few relatively small hiccups, and suddenly some longtime members of the valley community are drawing lines in the sand: up-valley resident versus down, county versus town, working person versus leader of a large institution.
It’s human nature, I suppose, to recognize — and inadvertently amplify — polarization, but if my questionably useful degree in English literature taught me anything, it’s that dichotomies are easily deconstructed.
Despite what the divideand-conquerors would have us believe, values among valley inhabitants don’t range all that widely based upon where one lives. And where one lives is increasingly at the opposite end of the valley from where one works, recreates or volunteers.
Nobody who truly loves the Gunnison Valley wants this place to resemble the Roaring Fork, Vail or Summit County. But digging in our heels and isolating ourselves from one another isn’t the answer.
If sustainable tourism efforts, a robust valleywide transportation system, effective affordable housing, reliable telecommunications, etc., are what we want, we need everyone at the table. More allies, not newfound enemies.
We need leaders who find common ground instead of dwelling upon differences. Above all, we need flexibility and cooperation in quickly changing times.
Chalk 2017 up to lessons learned. Here’s to 2018 — and forging ahead, together, at whatever is thrown our way.
(Will Shoemaker can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)