Feature

Wild Things

April 2005

How our changing expectations of wilderness are squeezing the Colorado landscape.

 

In an 1881 article in the Atlantic, writer N.S. Shaler suggested that those who chose to live in the mountains would in time be shaped by the surrounding country, the strong nature of the land firmly stamping itself on the populace. Only then could we "expect to find the most distinctly American of our peoples-a race that will, we may hope, be cast in the large mould of the nature that surrounds it. The fierce, eager mood that is now upon this people will in time pass away, and they will lose their restlessness and gain strength in contact with the great strong land where their lot is cast."

Shaler was attempting to look beyond a region where the vast majority of people were transients-adventurers and holidaymakers, one writer put it-having come to play out their luck or engage in some sort of lark and drift away. Yet while the transience Shaler talks about was for the most part a choice, for an increasing number of today's residents it's a matter of necessity. As former Crested Butte Mayor Bill Crank explains, long gone are the days of coming into a mountain town as a ski bum, working nights and weekends to buy a hopelessly run-down littler fixer-upper, and over the next half dozen years turn it into a home. You can still live with a bunch of people in a single house and play ski bum for a few seasons. But unless you have money, lots of it, sooner or later you're going to drift away.

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