More People – Less Land (A Cowboy’s Decline)

“Life is change”, and change (wanted or not) is inevitable. I was abruptly reminded of that just the other day when walking my dogs, happily performing another one of my daily rituals.

I saw a pickup parked off on the horizon. Normally, as I amble between my house and the Colorado River, about a mile and half away, I encounter nothing but my back gate, open space, sagebrush, prairie dogs, and an occasional coyote or badger.

Sometimes I am joined by a playful pair of Golden Eagles, circling on the rising thermals overhead. I usually hike down to the river, and then traverse about a mile along the precipitous escarpment that hangs precariously a hundred feet above the river.

Then I head back home along an alternate route that follows the crest of another alluvial ridge, creating a triangular path, one I’ve worn down and packed solid over the course of the passing years.

On this solitary sojourn, I expect to see and hear no one, except the cars cruising way out on I-70, off in the distance across the Grand Valley. My daily walk has always been a time of uninterrupted contemplation, meditation, and personal introspection.

As I’ve indicated, I’m a man who needs a good deal of personal space, and solitude in my life. Walking my dogs is my excuse for this daily indulgence. I have come to accept my need for meditation like I have acknowledged by a need for air, water, food, and horses. Riding and training my horses gives my life meaning. Walking my dogs exercises my body, and soothes my soul.

But on this particular day, my anticipated solitude was abruptly interrupted by two men driving here and there, crisscrossing the arroyos. Curious about what they were up to, I angled off my beaten path and went out to meet them. It turned out that they were surveyors marking out a grid of 40-acre parcels. A development company from Aspen had bought up the thousands of acres that for so long have been my private playground, previously neglected by all except me and the rancher who occasionally runs a few head of cattle on the spring grass that grows there.

Now this property is going to be offered in small pieces to land speculators and developers who will soon be filling the space with a sea of expensive upscale dwellings, designed to meet the needs and pocketbooks of the upper and upper-middle classes. My days of free roaming, on foot or on horseback, are now numbered, and will soon be coming to an end. The clutter and clatter of civilization is mounting up to move in and take my freedom’s fortress away. In short, I will soon be fenced in…or fenced out.

All across Colorado, and surely all across our nation, the same sad scenario is happening. It’s inevitable. Every day there are more and more people wanting to use (and abuse) less and less open land. Everywhere you look, houses and golf courses are eating up and replacing farms and forests. As property values go up, the less financially fortunate (people like us) are pushed out, forced to live in trailer courts or employee housing; sequestered out of sight, but kept close at hand, to serve the domestic needs of the wealthy and not caring for people who have a heart for natural horsemanship.

I’m afraid that as the wealth gap widens and the middle-class becomes extinct, only those with the deepest pockets will be able to lead the lifestyle that includes owning and enjoying horses as a pivotal part of their lives. The era of the free roaming western horseman that I have enjoyed for so long, that lifestyle of a financially challenged but spiritually rich, hard-working cowboy/horse rancher, will soon pass out of existence.

Maria and I have already come to grips with the fact that we will soon have to sell out and move. There’s a price to be paid for everything in life. Up till now, we have paid the price by living in long-term, self-imposed poverty (being horse poor), embracing the form of sensible self-denial required in order to fulfill our fantasies.

To live our dreams we have gone without health insurance, health care, vacations, or a new vehicle for fifteen years. But, we have faithfully fed our horses, dogs, and cats, and usually ourselves… in that order.  Given the precarious state of the world, and the resulting decline of the general horse market, it’s unlikely we’ll ever be able to recoup our investment, or relocate our operation and continue on. What we are left with is just the satisfaction of our accomplishments, and the pride we have in being able to have sustained many years of self-sufficient independence…the cowboy lifestyle. It’s been a tough, but good ride. We’ve survived! I plan to keep on keeping on till I can’t rise to feed them broncos anymore. Happy trails and here’s a little poem:

LIFE IS A TRAIL
TOWARDS A LONE MOUNTAIN TOP
IT’S A TRACK THROUGH THE DESERT
THE WIND BLOWS AWAY

SO LIVE FOR ADVENTURE
LIVE WILD AND FREE
THERE’S NO PLACE TO GET TO
YOUR QUEST IS “TO BE”

AND KEEP ON THE MOVE
TO STAY STRONG AND ALIVE
COUNT EACH DAY A SUCCESS
IF YOU SAY “I SURVIVED”…