So the Fourth of July 2008 has passed; we know this because we’re enjoying the yearly accounting of Will Smith’s box-office returns. Tradition, you know.
And American tradition overall is alive and well, it seems. I spent the 4th up in a cabin (can you still call it a cabin if you have plumbing, electricity, and DirectTV?) between Granby and Grand Lake, and I can confirm that all is relatively normal. Despite the fire bans, there were still fireworks, both planned and regulated (the show at Winter Park was particularly groovy, with a smalltown vibe and a fireworks display that was mercifully not set to music -- I’d rather suppository a sparkler than hear Lee Greenwood’s insipid "God Bless the USA" one more time). And despite the high gas prices, people came from all over (as the traffic jam up I-70 on Thursday last could attest). And, of course, people were still riding ATVs all over freaking everything.
But there are signs that changes are a-coming. Most visible is the red, of course. The dead red of beetlekill.
It’s everywhere up here -- the only places that still look green are where the pines aren’t (Colorado gives thanks anew for its aspens, here). Some locals are trying to look on the bright side of it all, saying that it’s giving the forests a chance to thin a little, that its nature’s way, that it looks better this year than last. And maybe it does, but not because things are getting better or greener. It’s just that the red needles have already started to drop, leaving the brown of bark that fades more readily into the mountain backdrops. But the damage is still apparent if you choose to look. The devastation is reaching Lorax-levels here, and there’s no one yet who knows how to speak for the trees.
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Less apparent at first glance, though, are the signs of economic exhaustion that are seemingly around every turn. There’s less ready cash floating around -- even on a holiday weekend, the lines were a little shorter, the restaurants a little less crowded. People were packing in food, skipping the horse rides or the boat rentals, making do with a little less. And the homes for sale were everywhere. From the front porch of the cabin where we stayed, I could count five properties for sale. These were places bought to enjoy wealth, when wealth was a little more abundant and available to the average joe who wanted a place to go fishing or boating or skiing. But these are too much of an extravagance these days, for too many. And so they go on the market, or get boarded up, or both.
Grand Lake used to be a small place. Still is, but the population of people that have come to use it over the summer has grown over the years. My wife’s great-uncle had a lake house here. The house is still in the family, but it was built in the days when Grand Lake was largely for the wealthy, the people who could get away for longer periods, the people who could afford to spend money even when money was, for many, scarce.
Being here on the Fourth of July weekend, 2008, made me wonder if we might be heading in that direction again. We’re not there yet, but we’re on the road. And that’s something to think about even if it’s easier to look at a mountainside of dying trees and make yourself believe it’s getting greener. -- Teague Bohlen