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Finally, Ecodefense

Teaching opportunities at Adams State dried up after one year, and I once again looked for work. 

One afternoon, while emptying the mailbox at the end of our driveway, I found a note left by Wayne, informing me that an Alamosa “environmental organization” was looking for an office manager. 

My interest was immediate.  I assumed this organization, at the very least, dealt with issues of wilderness protection around the Valley.  Here, I thought, was an opportunity to go beyond simply waxing romantic about wilderness and actually engage in the nuts and bolts of defending it.

I phoned the number included in the note and spoke to Chris, the director of the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council.  I’d never heard of the organization.  We agreed to an interview.  

The interview with Chris and a Council board member was conducted at the Council’s little office located in the building of Alamosa’s public radio station.  The two shared with me the Council’s mission, and my original assumption about the organization was correct.  There was the inevitable question of what got me interested in environmental advocacy, and I mentioned my years of hiking and backpacking in the Southwest, membership in the Sierra Club, and master’s thesis celebrating the various landscapes of New Mexico. 

I felt good about the interview.  However, a week went by without hearing from the Council, so I phoned it, inquiring about my status, and Chris offered me the job.

The Council’s office was small, dank, and dusty.  Daylight dulled by sheets of plastic―the poor person’s “storm windows”―filtered through the two large glass windows hung with faded curtains.  Two massive recycled wooden desks were there for me and Chris.  On mine sat a personal computer. 

The Council was incorporated as a non-profit several years prior to my hiring.  Chris, who came aboard about six months before me, and I were its only paid staff.  The organization’s board included a physician’s assistant, a woodworker, and a respected Alamosa artist who painted landscapes in oils when he wasn’t working, during the growing season, for a Valley lettuce company.  The Council’s main goals were building recognition and credibility in the Valley and securing legal advice. 

I initially worked 25 hours a week, answering the phone, researching and adding names and addresses to the organization’s mailing list, writing grants, preparing the minutes of the board meetings, representing the Council at events of environmental interest in the region, and documenting the organization’s field projects.  I often worked alone, as Chris commuted to the office from her home in Crestone, an hour’s drive, only twice a week.  The independence and solitude suited me.

Chris was a classic representative of certainly one slice of the Valley’s population.  Some ten years younger than I, she arrived in the Valley―from exactly where, I did not ask―with her husband two years before me.  A native of Cleveland, Ohio, and a college graduate, she told me that she worked briefly for, of all things, one of David Letterman’s Late show incarnations―in what capacity, I never asked.  She was a hale and solid woman who eschewed make-up, her cheeks rouged by the Valley’s sun and wind.  She would have looked at home on the coasts of Ireland.  Her long hair, un-styled but not unkempt, often arrived at the office still damp from a shower.  Her clothes were casual.  Many of them might have been purchased at a Valley secondhand store.  Her running shoes were worn.  She was relaxed and irrepressibly upbeat.  From the start, she frequently sought my opinion on a wide spectrum of matters, and I had rarely felt so valued in a new job.  

Somewhat to my dismay, however, there wasn’t the slightest bit of drama at the Council office during my initial months of employment.  There were no challenges to timber sales in the national forests of the mountains surrounding the Valley.  There were no phone calls griping about threatened fish and game habitats or polluting businesses.  The office rarely had visitors.  The phone rarely rang.  Indeed, I realized that the Council was truly unknown.  Nonetheless, I quietly went about my job as if I were still the scrivener at the instrument repair company in Denver a quarter-century earlier.

However, things began to get more interesting when, one day, Chris assigned me some field work.

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