By Kandy Derden
Recently, I was given the opportunity to see firsthand the devastation from the forest fire which ravaged portions of a once scenic area. I expected to see some parched ground and scorched trees. I did not anticipate miles and miles of barren nothingness.
Why would anyone go sightseeing in such an area? I have absolutely no idea, but having seen it, I can now understand the hopelessness being felt by landowners.
Lest that sound like a bit of hypocrisy, allow me to explain why we were there. Sightseeing was not our purpose. I was with a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief team assembled specifically to help property owners with their clean-up efforts. “Many hands make light work” is a quote which was proven once again to be oh-so-true, especially in this situation.
I didn’t know what to expect. Many times during my life, I listened to the story of the day my grandparent’s home burned. As the story goes, my grandmother had been washing dishes so she took her wedding ring off and laid it in a little dish in the window sill over the sink. She forgot to put it back on before they went to town for supplies. Someone in town told them the news of their home burning. By the time they returned, it was a total loss. But since she knew where to look, they poked around in the ashes until they found her diamonds encased in the now melted dish. I never cared for the motif of her new wedding set, but the story of how it was designed to include her original stone makes it especially sentimental to the family.
For this reason, I am able to empathize with those who have lost everything. Each has been given the opportunity to list any items which they would hope to have recovered. That’s where we come in. Our volunteers sifted through an entire lifetime of accumulated memories in the form of mementos, decorations and collections. There was rejoicing and celebration each time we found something salvageable, even if for the sole purpose of sentimental attachment rather than any monetary value.
Yes, clean-up efforts are underway, but it is still going to take time for nature to recover from such widespread damage.
Alas, Beautiful Colorado isn’t attractive anymore. Or is it?
While in the area, we took a brief side trip to the Rocky Mountain National Park. From what little I was able to see, it is still a monument to God’s artistic flair during the Earth’s creation. Even in summer, snow still covers the magnificent mountain peaks creating some gorgeous waterfalls and mountain streams. Wildlife has a sanctuary there because there is a diverse assortment of foliage providing a lush habitat.
There was plenty of foot traffic within the areas where restaurants, shops and hotels were located. Tourism is alive and well in the area in spite of natural disasters.
Our team didn’t have much time to explore the many unique local shops or restaurants. However, I did find time to check out one business idea I would love to see catch on. In the midst of all the tourist attractions, we found a breakfast/lunch counter which was also a book store, book exchange and reading library. Bookshelves were strategically located everywhere plus tables were laden with stacks of books and reading material. I loved it!
If none of the above options are of interest to you, check out the YMCA. For years I had an image in my head of YMCA buildings. The only information I had to draw upon was from television where the Y is a non-descript gray building in a deteriorating area of the city. A cot could be rented by the day for single men with limited means and if you were lucky, they had an indoor pool.
Nothing could be further from the truth at the Snow Mountain Ranch, known as YMCA of the Rockies located near Granby, Colorado. Thousands of acres are home to numerous lodges for rent, suitable for large group gatherings such as retreats, family reunions, vacations or as in our case, a place to call home while working with a recovery unit. If it hadn’t been for our schedule, we might have been able to take advantage of hiking, rock climbing, biking, camping, day camp for children, miniature golf, crafts, therapeutic horseback riding, indoor swimming or a rodeo. The list goes on and on. We observed antelope, fox, elk and moose all from the comfort of our lodge.
For those of you interested in such a place, be aware of one thing. You know that handy dandy little catchphrase we used to describe stadium seats which are way in the back, up high? They are called the nosebleed section for a reason. Expect thin and dry air associated with the altitude. If you plan on any physical exertion, be prepared with a can of oxygen (available in most locations). Sometimes, one quick breath of pure oxygen is all it takes to get you going again.
The population of this tourist area fluctuates greatly. I was surprised, though I shouldn’t have been, to discover how many people move there to live and work for the season, then return to their permanent place of residence.
Locals are resilient although still traumatized by their losses. We found some who are rebuilding, some who are still living in very temporary quarters, and others who are doing all they can to help their neighbors (or former neighbors) bounce back. Sadly, there is a percentage who will never have the means to recover completely. My heart goes out to them. Even though I have experienced losses from a house fire, tornado and a break-in, we have always managed to recover.
Although this is not my primary reason for being a Disaster Relief volunteer, it is something that helps me have compassion for those who are affected by a disaster that caused damage from which they cannot recover without assistance. Additional teams of trained Southern Baptist Disaster Relief workers will be rotating in and out throughout the summer providing help, hope and healing.
Please don’t ignore the travel and vacation possibilities which are available. Not to worry, Colorado residents still welcome visitors with a smile and a greeting:
“Welcome to Beautiful Colorado!”
Kandy Derden may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org