Teri Orr: The politics of place
In my decades of traveling to Boulder and loving the place and the people, I do what comes naturally — I listen to the conversations about what matters most to the folks who live there. Water issues are huge in the West — of course — but a place like Boulder, Utah, has a steady stream of irrigation water and strong high mountain streams. No one takes anything for granted but it is less of a concern than you might think. The dance between cattle and humans is always delicate and how land is used and/or protected is always a topic. Here there is a reverence for the simple beauty of the rugged, isolated, red rock mountains and ranch/farmland. The future of the land and the people and the uses that provide a livelihood … is all discussed at the end of a trail ride or a hike or around a dinner table. Along with ways to incorporate the indigenous people and their wisdom in caring for Mother Earth.
This year, the deck is the dining room at the James Beard-nominated Hell’s Backbone Grill. Owners and chefs, Blake Spalding and Jenn Castle decided the only way to be safe last summer when they finally reopened was to just serve outside — so the deck greatly expanded. And for the first time “to go” orders were offered. Some picnic tables were added to the grand lawn and folks could sit in the park-like atmosphere to dine there too. All things COVID considered — it worked well. They just fully reopened in May — with hours from 4 to 9. No more breakfast and they never did serve lunch. Their current team is seamless and smart. And kind to a person. They created some of their own employee housing a decade or so ago. Good people work there with great attitudes. Creative people, many formerly from Big Cities, who wanted/needed a different way of living.
On the last night I was there — I did as I had done the nights before and dined with my decades-long friend, Blake. Our table mate included a philanthropist/land conservationist in the valley who also resides part time in the San Francisco Bay Area. We talked about a performing arts series that will happen there in September with the famed Hubbard Street Dance company from Chicago and a nationally known pianist and vocalist later in the month. I listened about the recent visit to the area by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland — the first indigenous person to ever be named to the ranks of ANY White House administration. She identifies herself as a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe and a 35th-generation New Mexican — and she is also over the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Both local women were on the board of the group that advises for the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments. I say were because Blake — the co-owner of Hell’s Backbone Grill — left the board. Her reason? The commission did not include a single indigenous person. And when she left … they added the very Dine (Navajo) woman she had proposed. Haaland’s report is now finished and awaiting President Biden’s decision. Under the Antiquities Act the president does not need any congressional approvals to act on the findings.
As the evening progressed a steady stream of folks came by The Chef’s Table to pay their respects to Blake (Jenn is not one to porch-sit much — so when I did get to spend some private time with her, I took it for the delicious treat it was.) A rancher came by to talk a bit about the weather and some about land down the road that might be soon sold. Maybe half an hour later another man came to the table — a part-time resident with full-time interests in the valley and said his family was interested in … that very land — maybe for some affordable housing. A top mover and shaker in the state Democratic Party stopped by the table to ask me directly — “What the hell is going on with the politics in Park City?” And then we dissolved into talks about murals and morals and the making of place.
As the night started to cool a bit I was glad I had brought along my favorite online, unneeded, spontaneous COVID purchase. I had been on the Pendleton site — a comforting space and I saw a sweater that looked safe and quirky and other words I don’t usually associate with clothing. It was shown in tans and brown and cream but you could also get it in grays and black and white — which fit my style better. I couldn’t really explain why the purchase seemed to soothe me — but it did. The very first time — last winter — I wore it to the Park City post office I had a lot of compliments — the sweater seemed to immediately register with folks. It wasn’t ’til one guy, who has lived here maybe as long as me said — “Whoa! Great sweater … so … Lebowski!” — did I finally get it. My sweater — the Westerley — was the very same one Jeff Bridges wore in the cult classic film “The Big Lebowski.” Someone else overheard the guy. He added — “See how it pulls the whole room together?” And we had a good laugh through our masks. I later learned the sweater in the movie was Jeff’s own. He insisted on wearing all his own clothes for the film.
And that is just one reason why … The Dude Abides.
Long after the sun had left the sky and we had talked about so many changes in Boulder and the state and country and the planet … and Park City, I reluctantly knew it was time for me to wrap that sweater tight around me and head back to my little room on the edge of the bird refuge. The owner of the lodge was now dining at a table with his wife, and called out to me as I walked on the dirt path. “Thanks for bringing the Lebowski vibe to the Lodge! Best — sweater — ever!”
The next day I started my journey home — it was time to spend Sunday back in my own Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts. She has been a member of the TED community since 2007 and founded TEDxParkCity in 2009.
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