|The Yak Tunnel entrance as it appears today.|
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
So what lessons should Leadville's struggle teach us...
There is a rule we learn in kindergarten but struggle to live our whole lives: If you make a mess you should clean it up. It seems simple, yet from the time we are born, human beings have a hard time following it, and life is far more complicated because of it.
As anyone who has children can attest, it's much easier to make a mess than to clean it up. Laurie and I joke that we always say we know where our daughter Becca has been. As she moves from place to place around our house playing, she will inevitably leave what I like to call a creative remnant behind. (You could also call it a mess, adding other "colorful" adjectives as I sometimes do.) Now, while its frustrating to her parents to always clean up after her, at Becca's age the area of consequence of her actions can be fairly well contained to our home. However, if we don't at some point learn the "clean up after yourself" lesson, as we grow older, the consequences of our failure to "clean up our mess" begins to have broader impacts.
For example, let's imagine that we are all grown up, and find ourselves in charge of a mining company. We have resources we want to extract from a certain area. How will we go about the process? Well, if we never learned to clean up our mess as a child, we figure it's okay to strip the resources from the soil, leaving complete environmental devastation in our wake. After all I got what I wanted, now I'm ready to move on. What is left behind is merely creative remnant—collateral damage necessary for economic progress. Someone else can deal with the mess...
Unlike when we were kids, there's no one to put us in "timeout" if we fail to clean up as adults.
It seems to me that EPA tried to play the role of "disciplinarian" in Leadville. When EPA arrived in town, the parties were finally forced to sit down and try and work out a solution. It wasn't easy, but eventually (it took more than a decade) they got it done. I assure you, though, EPA was not warmly welcomed when they first arrived in town, anymore than the defiant child likes being placed in "timeout".
But when contaminated water pouring from the Yak Tunnel caused the Arkansas River to “run red” on February 23, 1983, and began threatening water supplies downstream, there was no denying the need to act anymore. Leadville’s problem, which had been a "local issue" for decades, suddenly became Colorado's problem—and even America’s problem. The public became much more aware of the issue and demanded action to protect them. Something had to be done—and someone would have to pay for it. Millions of dollars would be spent to figure out how to clean up what the mining companies had carelessly left behind—and who would pay for it. While some “responsible parties” could do identified, many others could not be made to pay; the companies had long sense gone out of business; the individual owners had died. But make no mistake, future generations paid a considerable “cost” for their failure to clean up after themselves.
Leadville's story serves as a reminder to me that in our thirst to fuel our relentless engine of progress we have done considerable damage to the natural world—and the planet can only take so much before there are serious consequences for life on Earth.
Sometimes, such as in Leadville, we reach a point where we just can't deny what's happening. The river is red this morning—clearly that's not natural. We are forced to reckon with the facts; we have to repent. We have to acknowledge what's been done and change our direction. Even though you and I are not the "responsible parties" for past damage to our environment, like the citizens of Leadville, we are still called to be part of the solution.
We need to find a better way that strikes more of a balance between economic and environmental prosperity. Both are important. Are we truly "prosperous" as a nation if our environment is in ruins? What good is financial wealth if the only planet we have to live on is a desolate wasteland due to our insatiable lust for economic prosperity? (The movie Wall-E is an over-the-top example of the consequences of unchecked economic growth. But perhaps the hyperbole makes a point...)
God entrusts human beings with stewardship of the planet—Genesis 1:26-31. We might take time to consider: How are we doing in that regard? Yes, the Earth is God's good Creation, and we are given resources to to continue that work of creation with God. These resources are here for our use, but there have always been limits/boundaries that we must respect, or suffer the consequences. And when we do use resources, hopefully Leadville's example will remind us of that fundamental rule of life: when we make a mess, we should clean it up—not leave it lying around for someone else to deal with. It's much easier that way...
Monday, September 19, 2016
Leadville’s troubles became national news in 1983, when one of the old mining tunnels that were used to carry waste away from the mines [shown below] gave way spilling huge amounts of waste water into the nearby Arkansas River. The opening scene of the book is presented from the perspective of a long-time resident of the area named Doc Smith who lives on a ranch along the Arkansas River. She describes the fateful morning when the river “ran red" from Doc's perspective.
Of course this wasn't the first time a spill had happened in this area. What made this time different was the size of the spill. This release was so large that it threatened the water supply of more heavily populated areas downstream, such as Colorado Springs and Aurora (a suburb of Denver), which drew national attention to the residue the mines and smelters of the Leadville Mining District left behind (e.g. lead, heavy metals in the soil and water) in a way that previous spills had not. Later that year, Leadville was designated a Superfund site, beginning an effort to clean up the "mess" mining left behind that would play out over several decades.
|We did trek out to what appeared to be a mine entrance|
located just outside Leadville. I have no idea which mine this was.
Time did not allow for deeper investigation while we were there.
However, the Mining History Association has many more photos posted
online from a tour of the Leadville Mining District conducted in 2007.
|The Yak Tunnel entrance as it appeared in 2002—after EPA-mandated clean-up.|
This 3.5 mile long tunnel was used to haul ore and drain the mines
in the area; this was the tunnel that ruptured in 1983, spilling contaminated
water down California Gulch into the Arkansas River and bringing
national attention to Leadville's "mining mess" Image credit: Mining History Association.
The author describes the long, complicated—and sometimes bitter—struggle to clean up the messes, that involved a number of parties including: the Environmental Protection Agency, the state of Colorado, the Principally Responsible Parties (e.g., the biggest mining company still in existence was the ASARCO mining company), and the “ordinary” citizens of the town. The debate was not only about who should be responsible for the cleanup—but even whether said cleanup was really needed. The town struggled with its sense of identity: Residents wanted to protect their legacy as a mining town. They didn’t want to disturb and/or destroy more of the “relics” of the past than was necessary.
Klucas weaves a fascinating tale bringing together some of the town’s history with anecdotes and quotes from some of the people (e.g., local politicians, EPA officials, land owners) who were actually involved in the controversy. Early on the relationship between EPA officials assigned to Leadville and townsfolk was contentious to say the least. They were viewed as unwanted government intruder into Leadville’s affairs. Thanks in part to a change in the EPA leadership, eventually the town and EPA learned how to work together and work to clean up Leadville proceeded more smoothly than it had before. By 2011, EPA considered the area “cleaned up”—though pregnant women are still encouraged to have their lead levels carefully monitored.
|The museum was dedicated in 1987.|
|National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum. Leadville, CO|
As with many places where industry once reigned but has since moved on in this country, the physical evidence is “cleaned up” long before the potential environmental and public health impacts diminish. Those longer-term impacts may very well still be present today. The damage done to the land, water, and air, wildlife, and to the lives of people who lived here, by mining is much harder to quantify or to put a price-tag on—which was why the argument between Leadville and the EPA was so intense.
Had I not happened into that bookstore the day we were there and read this book, I would never have known about this chapter in Leadville’s story. And yet is an important chapter, not just in Leadville’s story but in America’s story. Klucas makes it clear in her book that this wasn’t just a Leadville issue—it was and is an American issue. When the book was written in 2004, there were 500,000 abandoned mining sites in the U.S., 300,000 of them in the west—23,000 in Colorado alone. By one estimate 40% of the watersheds in the West were at risk for contamination.
Sunday, September 11, 2016
It’s the time of year where school children everywhere are writing the obligatory back-to-school essay. The topic assigned is often: What did I do on my summer vacation?
Well, our family had quite a summer vacation—in fact it was actually two vacations. Thanks to a grant my wife Laurie received from the Lilly Endowment for Clergy Renewal—and with the generous support and encouragement of our congregation at Good Shepherd UMC—she was able to take three months of Sabbath leave this summer. As part of that, our family was able to take the “vacation of a lifetime”.
|Disney Dream anchored|
at Castaway Cay
|One of the crew who served us meals.|
Note the napkin art Becca is holding.
|Outside Union Station in DC.|
Our cross-country pilgrimage begins!
|Chicago's Soldier Field|
Home of da'Bears!
|Water Park at Adam's Mark|
hotel in Kansas City
The next morning, we set out on a trek across Kansas and Colorado. This was the longest stretch of driving of the whole trip. (We did it in the comfort of a modern SUV; I can only imagine that same trip was like when pioneers took it without the benefit of paved roads via Conestoga wagon!) We did have an interesting (unplanned) stop in Topeka, KS, where we visited a museum dedicated to Brown Versus the Board of Education—the Supreme Court decision that abolished the idea of “separate but equal” and ruled that schools must be integrated.
I couldn’t help but think that while in some ways we’ve made much progress in race relations since the mid-1950s, in other ways it seems we are still having bitter arguments over what limits should be placed on the phrase, “with liberty and justice for all”.
|Manitou Springs, CO|
|A road outside Leadville, CO|
|With my friend Jeff in Sedona, AZ|
Lake PowellPage, AZ
Our tour ended in Williams, AZ, where we had dinner at a place located on the old Route 66. (We had actually saw the sign for the start of Route 66 back in Chicago and at other places in Arizona.) After that, Steve dropped us off at a local hotel, where a shuttle picked us up and drove us out to “Williams Junction”, aptly named since is not so much a station but a spot along the tracks outside of town, where the Amtrak train slows down long enough to have passengers and their luggage embark.
|The view of Universal Studios from our |
hotel room in the Hilton Universal.
|The Universal sign at night.|
|The kids loved looking the|
Christmas (in August!) Village
at Kara's house.
|Chapel at La Purisma Mission|
|Sanctuary at First UMC|
|Getting ready to board our return flight|
from San Francisco.
On Sunday morning we worshipped at First United Methodist Church in Lompoc. This was where Laurie and her friends worshiped as youths, and where Kara and her family still worship after all these years. After church we had a greasy Carl’s Jr. lunch, and then hit the road again, stopping in Campbell, CA (near San Jose) for dinner with Kristi, her husband, and youngest son. After dinner, we drove into the California night toward our final destination: San Francisco. The next morning, we did tours of Muir Woods and San Francisco Bay, and had dinner with another old friend of Laurie’s that evening.
Alas, even the best things eventually end. The next morning, it was finally time to head home; we boarded an early flight from San Francisco and flew back to DC.
Sometimes when one is busy living life, one’s worldview can become a bit myopic. By that I mean that we telescope on our own our individual needs and desires, and forget that there is so much more out there beyond our limited horizon. We get so caught up in the importance of our own affairs. As if the world literally depends on what I do.
A trip like the one I just had a chance to take is a good curative for that tendency. I got outside of what was familiar and I saw some places I’ve never seen before—and may never see again. I was reminded just how vast—and just how good—this nation is. The land, the water, the air, and the people we met on our journey, all proclaimed the Presence of God to us on our travels this summer. We weren’t “in church” every Sunday as we normally are given my wife’s role as pastor, but I feel like we worshipped every day.
We were reminded of what we already knew: God is found outside the church doors just as easily as God is found at church. Though I personally believe participating in church on a regular basis makes it easier to have “eyes that see” and “ears that hear” God in the world.
People keep asking me, what was my favorite part of the trip? Of course people want to know. But with such a packed agenda. I honestly find it hard to pick “just one activity” that was my favorite. Every part was unique—and enjoyable in its own way. We “saw” God in so many different places. I took many photos at each location, several of which accompany this essay, but often I thought, “No camera does what I am seeing justice.” Sometimes, even with all our instant communication technology, there is just no substitute for actually being there.
I plan to write more about my specific experiences in subsequent posts. For now, I will just say thanks to the Lilly Foundation, the people of Good Shepherd—and most of all God–for making this Sabbath Leave possible for my wife. I’m thankful to be married to my wife, whose 20 years of faithful service made this time summer’s travel possible. I’m also thankful to her for doing 99.9% of the planning of our itinerary—and that’s probably a conservative estimate J—so that our family could enjoy this “vacation of a lifetime”. She continues to bless me in so many ways.
Clergy life is a “costly” calling. The pastor pays the highest price of all, but when you “marry into the ministry” you assume some of that mantle as a clergy spouse. Our children didn’t really get a choice; they were just sort of born into the role of pastor’s kid. Overall they’ve rolled with it, but there is no question, over these past 13 years, that our whole family has had to make many sacrifices to enable my wife to serve. She gave up the right to decide where she lives when she was ordained and agreed to “go where she is sent”; I am now part of that by virtue of marriage. We sometimes have to sacrifice her being with us so she can be with the people God has called her to shepherd. We sacrifice some things other families probably take for granted (e.g., Laurie works almost every Sunday so we can’t easily plan a weekend getaway or do other activities take require us to be “away from church” on Sunday.)
Sometimes the pace of life is so hectic that we only realize how much we needed a break once we have time to stop and think about it for a while. This summer provided a much-needed opportunity for us to “stop and think about it for a while”; it was, if you will, a time of intentional rest—a Selah in the Psalm of life. I think—I pray—we used our time well and are better than when we left in June. I know beyond a doubt that God was with us on our pilgrimage this summer. I suspect I will be processing the lessons these three months have taught me for months and possibly even years to come…