Monday, January 26, 2009

The Mail Box Part III: Excerpt from: "At Home in the Elk River Valley"

Not long after the ranch auction, a realtor put up two large red and white For Sale signs at the entrance to the ranch: “May Ranch for Sale - 380 Acres.” The brochure in the newspaper appealed to the imagination of those who long to be a part of the West: “Here’s your opportunity to be a part of a ranching legacy.” The asking price, six million dollars. That’s just about $15,000 an acre. Not an unusual price for land in this county. However for a cattleman to make a profit on land priced at $15,000 acre, he would have to raise over 1200 head of cattle on 380 acres. Depending on how the ground was used--part pasture, part hay ground--those 380 acres might sustain fifty head and produce 400 tons of hay.

Today however, the real value in the land for the new westerner is in the protection of the hay meadows through a conservation easement. The conserved and protected open land, stretching from the hillside to the river bank, eventually drew in a successful entrepreneur in his thirties. After purchasing the ranch, he improved the river and it shores, built a barn and arena, and created roads and improved fence lines. As I and other neighbors pass by, we’ve watched intently. While we regret the leave taking of the May family, we are pleased to know we will always see open meadows, a beautiful waterway, and the iconic barn just beyond the banks of the Elk. We are pleased this new westerner valued the land for its ability to produce hay, the river for its ability to slack thirst, and that we will continue to find in them both, a neighborhood still familiar.

It’s been years since I saw Cynthia walk across County Road 129 to get her mail. It was safer then to walk across the road that takes traffic to north Routt County. Nowadays, more than 2000 cars a day pass by the May place, most of them commuters, and in the summer, boaters, campers, hikers, and fishermen. I don’t see any balloons on the mailbox or a flag on the fourth of July.

We no longer slow down after branding time when the May’s drive their cattle up to their Bureau of Land Management lease ground for summer pasture. (Their lease with the BLM is one of 18,000 grazing permits nation wide allowing ranchers to utilize public lands for their livestock.) And we no longer close our front gates when the herd passes by late in the fall on their way back home. Cynthia’s note cards of local flowers in black ink are no longer for sale, and while the Fence Post, a statewide agricultural publication, continues to publish Bill’s column about the history of his family and ranch operation, someone else is choosing and submitting his articles. We won’t hear Bill read his cowboy poetry or play his guitar at the Moonhill School House, once a local gathering place for holiday potlucks.

I hold the memories close, embracing them so I don’t forget how important neighbors, traditions, the seasons, and a moment in time are. I want to remember to watch for the bald eagles that still fly over the Elk. I want to hold onto the importance of celebrating the family and the seasons. And I will always hope, that if Cynthia were still around, when the snowplow ran over her mailbox, and she was dragging it out of the barrow pit with her tractor, and Bill would happily directed local traffic, and those who waited, would understand their chore and get out of their cars to offer help.

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