Meredith Swett Walker
A HANDFUL of river-miles down- stream from the confluence of the
Gunnison and Colorado rivers, there is a
confluence of a human sort. Streams of
people intersect and swirl in our town’s
grocery store parking lot, eddy-like, before
rushing downstream to their busy lives.
A Mennonite woman in a long skirt, head
neatly covered, pushes her cart of groceries
and quiet children toward her late-model
minivan. Nearby, raucous children in soccer
uniforms tumble out of a nearly identical
minivan. They follow their be-jeaned and
ponytailed mother into the store for a treat
of popcorn and a DVD from the Redbox machine. A ranch dog surveys the scene from
his perch on a bundle of fence posts in the
bed of a pickup, while his owner runs into
the store for a Coke and two gallons of milk.
A tired looking roughneck, perhaps back
from a stint in the nearby oil and gas fields,
carries bags of frozen dinners to his shiny
new truck. Four fit middle-aged men load
bagels and sandwich fixings into coolers
in the back of an SUV that’s bristling with
expensive-looking mountain bikes. Next to
them, a hatchback emblazoned with stars
and stripes advertises a group advocating
for retired uranium miners. They supplied
the government with yellowcake during the
Cold War, and now they deal with the fallout
of radiation-related illness.
In rare moments of quiet between
the rattle of grocery carts and slamming
car doors, you can hear the hiss of traffic on I- 70, where it rubs shoulders with
the Colorado River. To the north, the setting sun illuminates buttes made of ancient seabeds; to the south, red-rock cli=
faces formed by ancient sand dunes gaze
over the valley where we live. Each of us
brought here by something the land has
to o=er: mountains and desert, farmland
and suburb, arable land, challenging bike
trails, fossil fuels, a=ordable bedrooms.
We all swirl briefly in this parking lot, a
microcosm of the modern West.
ONCE A THRIVING manufacturing town, Rockford has fallen into deep
disrepair. Much of the industrial area of
the city lies in ruins, the brick skeletons
of former production. But the most remarkable gifts of the earth often come
from the most unremarkable places.
Here, beautiful bricks made beautiful
buildings. Their natural clays hail from
economic engines nearby: the dark-red
clay from Chicago, the red-orange clay
from St. Louis, and the milky Cream City
clay from Milwaukee.
Now only the sun rises each morning
and warms the bricks—the heat of machines and human bodies is long gone.
Ivies cavort, untamed, up, up, up the
mortared earth, grasping with peridot
The Forest City, as Rockford is often
known, has little forest to boast of anymore (Dutch elm disease wiped out
many of the most beautiful trees). Yet
this corner of the Midwest is still home
to many creatures. Entire worlds exist on field edges, with trees towering
nearby, forming an overhead canopy.
Life abounds in the unmown ditch partitions that line the highways, checker the
streets, and wind through alleyways; redwing blackbird and red ant alike share in
the mysteries of these bypassed places.
Prairie thrives, enriching the soil. Unbridled by human attempts at control,
stormy springs, breezy, humid summers,
crisp autumns, and dry, cold winters give
the year rhythm. This place of temperate
grasslands and precious few wild areas
still knows how to make a case for itself
wherever concrete is absent, whenever a
soul is willing to look.
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