Ageing

Now that I am on the downhill side of 70, I’m more conscious of my health. It depresses me. For a pick-me-up, I’ll watch my favorite baseball team, the Colorado Rockies, only to see them give up three unearned runs in the bottom of the ninth, and lose 6-5. Nor do I find relief by watching a mindless sitcom, crime detectives in Miami, or “America’s Got Talent.” If we have so much talent, I ask myself, why doesn’t some of it appear in Congress or the White House like it did when I was in my late twenties?

The network news only puts me into a deeper funk. I’m at a loss to distinguish the difference between the Shia and the Sunnis, who is fighting whom, where and why. There seem to be no good guys. And there appear to be fewer of them among professional athletes who get their jollies beating up on their spouses and children. No, there is no good news to cheer about, except for “Dancing with the Stars,” where the contestant with the best cleavage always wins!

However, if you watch closely on the network news, during a break, immediately after Brian Williams announces the latest health scare and before he returns to tornado damage in Oklahoma, there are some very useful advertisements. I remember growing up when most newspaper and early TV ads were “booze and butts.” They worked for me. I drank gallons of beer and bourbon and smoked incessantly to aid the profits of Budweiser and the American Tobacco Co. Today, however, the TV ads inform me that there is relief for everything that ails me as a result of all that liquor and smoke I once ingested into my former young and healthy body.

The advertisements cover everything from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. If it is more hair or hair of a different color I want, there is literally a solution, though I have to admit nothing I’ve tried turns white hair into blond. If it is dry eyes that I suffer from, I need not to worry. There are drops to get them watering in two hours. Or maybe it’s flaky dry skin and deep facial wrinkles that concern me. A new “revolutionary product” is immediately available on a trial basis with a money-back guarantee. For any breathing problems, forget the oxygen or a doctor, the TV screen informs me. I’m only a pill a day away from relief. For that never-ending and embarrassing “urge to go,” there’s another pill to send signals to my bladder to hold on and be patient.

What about my erectile dysfunction? That is easily taken care of by another pill, but to be beware because it may cause shortness of breath, back pain, hives, swelling of the legs, loose teeth, drop in blood pressure, depression, and the possibility of a four-hour erection that only a doctor can cure. I’d be willing to risk the four-hour problem if it weren’t for all the other possible side effects. Why waste the thousands of dollars I’ve already spent keeping my teeth firm?

I avoid my doctor because he always has bad news to relate; also I find I can self-medicate by way of the TV commercials. On my last visit to my doctor, he informed me that I’m a Type A diabetic and to watch my blood sugar and weight, and expect some tingling in my feet. Sure enough, right after Brian Williams announced a new, deadly virus, which could spread across the country, a pharmaceutical company came on the screen to tell me to stop worrying about my Type A diabetes. I could now relax. Help was on the way!

Thankfully over the past couple of years I didn’t give up my habit of watching the network news, even though it continues to cause me severe depression. I am indebted to the millions spent (and, no doubt, the billions earned) by the pharmaceutical industry whose first priority, I am now convinced, appears to be separating me from my money under the guise of caring for my decaying body.

I still worry, however, by the number of pills I ingest every morning. Once they enter my body, how do they know where to go? Is there a traffic director in my stomach who directs the yellow pill to my bladder and the pink pill to my thyroid? What if he makes a mistake after a late night out? Do I go into convulsions and die a painful death if the little blue pill goes to my heart?

For peace of mind, rather than rely on Big Pharma, I’d prefer that which an Army hospital supplied me, once upon a time –a manually-operated morphine drip. Ah, bliss. no aches, no pain, just happiness amidst empty
thoughts.

Indians At Home

When I moved to our Western Colorado ranch in 1974, the Ute Indians, who’’d once made the surrounding area their home, had long ago disappeared after the Army forcibly removed the tribe to Utah in 1881. They vanished as much from our memory as they had from our presence. The Ute’s former sixteen-million acre reservation soon filled with settlers, —farmers, hunters, miners, and ranchers. If you ask any of the descendants of these late-19th century newcomers about the region’’s history, most will say it began in the 1870s with the miners. No thought is given to the Ute who made their home here for at least twelve centuries, nor mention made of the thousands of Spaniards who settled in southern Colorado, nor the missionaries who traveled through these parts in the 18th and 19th century.

There were two or three old-time ranchers I met when I first arrived in the Uncompahgre Valley who remembered playing with Ute children, the sons and daughters of those Ute who’’d slipped back to their former home. One old-timer related that he learned from his playmates all the best game trails for hunting and which grass parks in the mountains and river valleys attracted elk and deer, at what time of year. Another pioneer, a rancher’’s wife, remembered hosting a gathering of three tattooed Ute braves dressed in buckskins, who’’d arrive at her kitchen door at exactly the same time every day. She’’d motion for them to enter and they’’d head for the kitchen table where she served them each a cup of sugared coffee. The unarmed braves would say not a word to each other or to their hostess. After their cups had been licked clean, the three braves would stand up, nod their thanks, and disappear out the door and into the forest. “Heck, I had to organize my entire day around their morning coffee klatch,”” the hostess later told me. “They never missed a day, except Christmas.””

In 2014, it’’s difficult to find reminders of the Ute presence except, of course, at local tourist attractions and entertainment venues. At one site, tourists can attend an “historical” drama where the “savages” attack peace-loving homesteaders.” The county’’s curio shops sell truckloads of Indian jewelry, war bonnets, and rubber tomahawks–most of them made in China. Real estate developments also use Ute history in their sale pitches. “”Come live in the serenity and natural beauty of Indian Hills where the Ute made their home.”” “And, there is hardly a tourist who doesn’’t stop along the highway to photograph the painted teepees on Ralph Lauren’’s ranch. Like most Americans, we seem unable to decide if Indians were bloodthirsty savages or peaceful, tree-hugging children of nature. The few Indian attacks on whites were always referred to as “massacres,” while white attacks on Indians were usually described as “victories to advance civilization.” The artifacts left behind by the Ute suggest they were neither entirely peaceful nor a romantic invention of pulp-fiction writers. Instead, a close reading of their history portrays a peaceful tribe of hunters and gatherers, who withdrew into the Colorado Rockies in order to protect their hunting grounds from other Indian tribes, and those who were forced to move west under the banner of “Manifest Destiny.”

In my first thirty years on our ranch, I’d found only one artifact suggesting a Ute presence:a single tepee ring. Then one day I had a phone call from the County Sheriff, Art Doherty, informing me that some of my cattle were out on the state highway. I’d known the sheriff since the day we moved onto our ranch when Doherty appeared and introduced himself. Heavy-set with his cartridge belt and holstered pistol slung beneath his considerable paunch and his hat pushed back into his thinning red hair, Art seemed to have come to the county directly from central casting. ““Name’’s Doherty, just call me Art,”” he said as he extended his hand, the size of a hubcap. ““Here’’s my card, call if you need help and remember, all you need to know to be a good citizen around here are three things: stop at all ‘Stop’ signs, signal when you turn, and if you kill game out of season, be sure you eat’’em.””

Slow to move my cows, Art phoned again, his voice not quite as friendly as his first call. I saddled up a horse, rode the fence along the highway looking for the break, and then went to gather the cows and push them through the nearest gate. Unfortunately for me, the broken fence was high up on a hill above my office. I collected some wire, two steel fence posts, fence pliers, a wire stretcher, and a canvas water bag, and trudged up the hill to the break. In the heat of day, I repaired the fence. Then I sat in the shade of a piñon tree and drank some tepid water. I looked down to the dirt around me and saw some small chips of dark brown chert, a stone not native to our immediate area. After rearranging more dirt, I discovered three imperfect arrowheads and more chips.

It didn’’t take long to understand that I was looking at Ute weaponry. I sat on a hill overlooking a lush grass valley bisected by a creek. Clearly the weapon-maker used this hilltop as a spotting site for game while manufacturing his weapons. On further inspection, I discovered two of his stone tools. I assumed he must have departed this hillside quickly if he left behind these valuable objects. There was no evidence of fire. Maybe there ha’d been a sudden attack by the US Cavalry or white settlers or other Indians, though no tribe is known to have come into this area and displaced the Ute.

The question of why this Indian departed abruptly, and where he’’d escaped to, continued to occupy my curiosity. In such a perfect setting with water and ample game— I guessed he didn’’t leave this area voluntarily.

My curiosity led me to the Denver Public Library, a year of research, and finally some brutal and unpleasant answers (included in my book: Red, White, and Army Blue). Like all Indians, the Ute were gathered up and placed into outdoor holding pens–Washington designated them as “reservations.” White settlers, however, looked with envy upon the Ute’’s sixteen million acres, a potential for farm and ranch land, gold and silver mines, and timber. By negating three treaties and in retaliation for the “Meeker Massacre”, an attempt by the Ute to replace a contemptuous agent, the US government reclaimed all but one million acres. Manifest Destiny had once again, won the day, as it had over other Indian tribes.

My Stint in Washington

Soon after service in the Army and graduate school, I thought at some point in the future I might want to run for Congress. I’d met a few Senators over the years—Brian McMahan of Connecticut and Jacob Javitts of New York—and they appeared smart, articulate and proud of their considerable accomplishments. Congressmen, I learned, made a decent salary with impressive perks like reserved parking which, if you’ve lived in New York City, is the ultimate perk, not to mention a spacious office and a paid staff. To prepare myself for this eventuality, I thought it good training if I worked, maybe for a year or two, in the office of a Congressman or Senator. The work couldn’t be too taxing, I thought to myself. It is, after all, inside work without heavy lifting.

Coming to Colorado

In the spring of 1974, I had just completed my Ph.D. in American History at Columbia University when a man named Bubba showed up at our front door and announced, “I’m here from United Van Lines to move you to Colorado.”

My new wife, Deedee, and I had decided to move to my ranch in Colorado where I planned to revise my dissertation for publication without interruption. We had loved living in New York and after our wedding eighteen months earlier, we’d enjoyed a spacious rent-controlled apartment at 86th Street and Broadway on Manhattan’s west side. Our neighborhood included the world-class delicatessen Zabar’s, a bakery across the street with to-die-for croissants and éclairs

The Circle of Knowledge

The local hardware store in Ridgway, Colorado, where I make home, is the gathering spot for a five male retirees who are referred to by town residents as the “Circle of Knowledge.” This cabal of elderly men gathers around the pot-bellied stove every morning, no matter the season, to share stories imagined and real, tall tales, and creative rumors, and I sometimes join them during a visit to the hardware store. When the pot of coffee reaches its dregs by late morning, they head home feeling refreshed and invigorated.

The origins of the Circle are still in question. Some say the Circle appeared overnight, like a nasty virus, and that it will only be eliminated by death. Others say the Circle was God’s gift to Ridgway, His way of bringing culture to this isolated community.

© 2017 Western Slope Press