By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Almost overnight, Ray grew into an activist; his was one of the eight original families in the class-action suit filed against Asarco in 1991. In the process of pursuing that suit all the way up through the 1993 trial and jury verdict in the families' favor, Ray became friendly with the plaintiff's lawyer, environmental activist Macon Cowles.
"Well, I'm a gardener, too," Cowles says. "Ray gives me produce. I was out there marveling at his pumpkin patch just this summer. They were two-and-a-half feet across! With the Oletskis, you tap into a vein of history that's been there forever, and is still there."
Those roots stretch deep.
"It's quiet and it's beautiful," Ray allows. "People that was born down here all went to the same churches and it was the kind of place where you could walk to work."
Not that life in Globeville was always idyllic. "There was that Slovenian-Polish language barrier," Ray recalls. "They couldn't hit it off, and there were awful fights and riots. You know, they still can't--not in Eastern Europe. Tell me this, do you have any idea what they're fighting about over there?"
This is the sort of question Ray ponders as he gardens--and, like Buck, he gardens all year. There are still turnips to be dug up, carrots wintering over, and decade-old asparagus plants storing up energy for spring. At which point, Ray says, everything will have to go.
"They tested my garden soil this fall," Ray says, "and the levels are still pretty high. It doesn't matter that I hauled tons of manure." Or that it takes four or five years, at least, to produce a mature asparagus plant. Ray knows none of this can be replaced, but he knows he can't ignore the health risks, either. The plot sickens.
"I don't discuss my own health," he says. "But my brother Laddy's got cancer--I don't know if it has to do with Asarco or not. And I'm still growing vegetables out here. This is my playground. I grow what I want."
Are his crops safe to eat? "I'm not sure. I eat them anyway," he confesses. "I'm talking to the health department about it."
Which means he's talking to Fonda Apostolopoulos, on-scene coordinator for the state health department. "I know Ray because he's an activist, and part of my job is making sure I get to know the people," Apostolopoulos says. "We replaced some of his soil, and he was quite concerned that it was full of clay."
Apostolopoulos "got to know" Ray to the point at which the health official realized the replacement soil would simply have to get better. "The Oletskis are just avid gardeners," he says. "They own their piece of the valley, and it's all been grandfathered in, the horses, the chickens, all of it. If they ever lose the deed, it won't look like it does now. The Oletskis are fascinating to me. They believe very strongly in horse manure."
They do not tolerate yellow clay that collects puddles, either. And that, along with other strong preferences, is the kind of thing Apostolopoulos spends his days sorting through. He's been working in Globeville almost three years now, sitting in at least a hundred living rooms and on countless patios, through endless tirades, visits and chats. Right away, he says, he realized that the view of Globeville he'd had from the highway was all wrong.
"I assumed these people were lazy and didn't care," he admits. "I saw the graffiti and the junk in the yards. Then I learned that the 25 bucks it takes to go to the dump can keep some of these families in rice and beans for a month. Or that they have lived here since the Depression and all that stuff in their yard might really come in handy someday, and they might not have the cash to buy it otherwise."
Soon Apostolopoulos was running interference for the older residents of Globeville, who had not only enough time to survey the soil-replacement project, but enough time to study and object to every step. "I heard a lot of, `How come he's getting a new sidewalk and I'm not?'" Apostolopoulos recalls. "And I would have to say, `Unfortunately for you, you took very good care of your sidewalk.' Eventually I realized that with some of these people, if there is construction going on nearby, I will just have to park my truck in front of their house and talk to them all day long. One man, I actually had him raise his right hand and swear: `I will not bother the contractors. I will talk to Fonda first.'"
Such encounters became all-absorbing for Apostolopoulos, who has stories of taking an 80-year-old man for his first shower in more than a year, of an encounter with twin-brother eccentrics, and the discovery of a millionaire land baron still living in a Globeville shack. He hasn't taken a vacation in seventeen months, he says, because "this is my community now, and it wouldn't be right for me to leave."
Besides, spring is not too far off. "What we're going to do at Buck Oletski's," Apostolopoulos says, "is wet down his lawn real well, and let thousands of worms loose on it and have them dig themselves in."