LITERARY LETTER: Old Fences, New Neighbors

By Contributor
February 9th, 2009

I’ve just finished a fascinating read: ‘Old Fences, New Neighbors’ by Peter R Decker, the story of the ranching community in the Ouray valley of SW Colorado – mountain country, beautiful and remote, but a tough place to make a living. Geographically this area is not far from the ski resort town of Telluride, and a good part of the book does discuss the effects of in-migration and development on a long established community. But this is not your customary lamentation over the horrors of development.

The story begins with the land as it was long before the first pioneers arrived. Like a camera lens, Decker zooms in on his subject from the broad historical context to the hardships of mountain ranch living – including his own experience in redeveloping a run-down old ranch – to the dramatic changes wrought by the invasion of affluent, modern-day migrants from far away places over the past couple of decades.

It is an illuminating story that stimulates ideas without offering trite answers. The author clearly has a point of view founded on strong principles, but refreshingly he doesn’t take sides, even though he must ultimately relocate if he is to continue his ranching life. A way of life nurtured over generations of toil and hardship seems destined to disappear, clearly a tragic loss for some who resent the newcomers with their affluence and strange ways. But all was not roses in the old ways, far from it; and there are positive aspects to the changes taking place.

In the author’s words, “As it rebuilds itself today, Ridgeway, with its influx of new residents, is also re-creating a community, not one modeled on or suitable for the late nineteenth century, but one appropriate for the twenty-first century.

“If a community is a place where people struggle in a climate of noisy but tolerant discourse toward a set of shared goals, then Ridgeway is today a far stronger, more vibrant and democratic, and certainly far more interesting place than ever before in its relatively short history.

“At a time when so much of our larger national culture, particularly our schools, is encouraging us to become specialists, so that we may quarrel with each other more effectively from our isolated cells, it is heartening to know that new, stronger communities can grow and flourish. Ridgeway may be losing its cows, but in the process it is gaining in human strength to sustain and comfort its citizens.”

The context is different but there are messages here as we struggle to adapt our own community to the challenges of an uncertain future.
‘Old Fences, New Neighbors’ is a thoughtful commentary on the evolution of community by an author writing passionately of his home.

Graham Kenyon
Rossland BC

Categories: Letters

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