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Signs of change

Column by Hal Walter

Mountain Life – December 2006 – Colorado Central Magazine

NOTHING SYMBOLIZES CHANGE quite like the limp form of a used condom lying in the road of an upscale subdivision where you routinely go running, and where the only thing of this shape you normally need to avoid stepping on is rattlesnakes.

This is the sort of litter that isn’t all that uncommon, say, at a trailhead in Boulder or a roadside pullout near Santa Fé. But in Custer County a discarded condom is somewhat of a rarity.

After discounting visits from a recently resigned GOP member of congress or the Colorado Springs evangelical set, the mind wanders to comical images of the mostly conservative AARP-type residents of the area, retired ex-urbanites who own ridgetop homes and whom you really can’t picture having sex at all, much less alongside a gravel road.

“Couldn’t they wait until they got home?”

Or, was it local teenagers? Well, I can count them all on one hand and I just sort of doubt it. But if that’s the case at least they are apparently learning something useful in school, like safe sex.

Even racier is the notion of a rural, rich white-trash version of “Desperate Housewives,” with sordid scandal running amok in a neighborhood of egotecture houses on 40-acre lots. Perhaps there’s a dark underbelly to Tibbey Trail that I’ve never considered.

It’s fun to muse at the possibilities. In the past the only folks having that much fun around here were those just passing through. Is it possible a used condom is the harbinger of a less conservative, younger-minded folk invading the area? Or was it just thrill-seekers from Pueblo? Either way, next time please fling the damn thing off into the brush so I don’t have to go through all this brain damage.

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It’s true we do live in a rather backwards little community. Hell, among the local electorate Bob Beauprez beat Bill Ritter in the gubernatorial race. Yeah, that’s gubernatorial, not goobernatorial.

A major issue recently has been an incident at the Custer County School in which a teenager fired a rifle at a skunk from the school parking lot. Now, mind you, this was the day after the tragic shooting at the high school in Bailey.

As I understand the story, this incident happened in the evening following an event in the school gym. There were parents, students and faculty still on the school property when the teenager removed the rifle from his friend’s pickup and fired. A custodian called the authorities and the school was put into “code-red lock-down.”

Without going into detail about what happened to these kids as a result, let’s just say a fair number of people in the community, including some students, felt the punishment dealt out was not harsh enough. On the other hand, quite a few others thought too big a deal was made of the incident.

Well, I’m sorry, but gunfire at school is a big deal these days. Too many area residents seem completely unaware of, or insensitive to, the events that make it a big deal — namely the Columbine and Bailey shootings in Colorado, but also many other incidents involving firearms at schools across the country.

Otherwise, they would not allow their minor children to possess firearms without adult supervision. They would not allow their children to take firearms to school. These boys would be educated in the safe and legal use of firearms to the point they would not consider pulling one out in the school parking lot and winging away at a skunk.

The argument has been made that Custer County is a rural community and many of the kids hunt. After all, this isn’t Denver. Great. Keep the guns at home and in the field. Don’t bring them to school.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a firearms owner and hunter myself. I was given a .22 rifle after completing a hunter safety course when I turned 12. I also know the rural lifestyle well. Once at a high-school gathering in Craig, Colorado, I watched a classmate skin a rabbit with his bare teeth on a main-drag street corner. But taking a gun to school and firing it in the parking lot was a big no-no then — and it’s an even bigger one since the Columbine slaughter.

In light of the Bailey tragedy, it was front page news in Pueblo when a person was suicidal in the same Zip Code at a school that same week. Of course any incident like the one at Custer County School the day after Bailey is a big deal. Unfortunately, this is the sort of thing that gives more political ammo to people who would like to see all firearms banned.

As always, it’s not the gun, but the irresponsible use of the gun, that is the problem. Perhaps those who own guns need to review how to handle them responsibly. This includes parents since minors cannot legally purchase or obtain firearms without the help of adults.

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It’s been a time-honored tradition in Custer County to elect Democrats to the position of county clerk. Other than that, pretty much only Republicans can get elected. In fact, it’s such a forgone conclusion that candidates, including the Democratic county clerk, quite often run unopposed. In fact the Republican primary election is sometimes more hotly contested than the general election. This year we saw a lively campaign for county commissioner between Carole Custer and Alan Urban. While I feel Alan had the better ideas, Carole had the right last name and the right political party, and thus she won the race.

Meanwhile incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. John Salazar won Custer County by only 85 votes. As I recall, Custer was one of only two counties in U.S. House District 3 that Salazar lost when he was first elected to the office in 2004. Furthermore, a progressive ballot measure to institute a minimum wage passed in this conservative county, and measures backed by lunatic fringe conservatives to institute judicial term limits and restrict school-district spending failed. This sort of thing is actually heartening to a voter who has become accustomed to casting a straight-line losing ballot.

As I write this, the sounds of construction projects surround me, with two new homes going up adjacent to my property. A woman from Alaska is building across the road. A couple from Silver City, New Mexico, is building on the hilltop to the north, in the subdivision where it is now advisable to watch where you step.

Amid the racket this morning I watched a weighty mule-deer buck chase off two smaller challengers in the grassy bottomland below my house. One can’t help but think while change is swirling all around us, some things always remain constant.

Hal Walter writes from 35 acres in the Sierra Mojada.