Durango Skeptics and Atheists

A Community for Critical Thinkers in the Four Corners Region

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In the Line of Fire

by Shandra McClanahan

What does home mean to you?

 I admit, I did not think about this until I was at risk of losing mine.

On June 1st, 2018, after having been home from vacation for less than 36 hours, the 416 fire began just over a mile from our home.  My boyfriend of 5 years called me at work to let me know, but I dismissed it. There had been several small fires in the area over the past few years, they were typically quickly dealt with.  But driving home directly into a smoke stack that I can only describe as volcanic changed my outlook. Victor and I watched as the pre evacuation lines moved further and further south. Our neighbors packed what things they could and I walked my dog through a ghost town everyday.  Until finally, it was our turn.

I had always heard of pre evacuation and thought, “Those people must be so glad that they can stay.”  And I was. But it is a much more insidious process than I could have ever realized. The task was simple enough, be ready to leave at a moments notice.  But how can a person live over weeks, or months even (we are still on pre evacuation) while being ready to leave? We packed up what things would be worth saving (houseplants, art and the video game consoles) and sent them away with the still surprising number of truly quality people we have managed to accumulate in our lives.  We prepared pet carriers, filled buckets with water for around the house, set out the hoses for quick access, and backed into our carport for a quick get away. And then we waited. And waited.

I was new to the idea of background stress.  For almost a decade I had worked a highly stressful corporate job complete with restless hotel stays and 14 hour shifts.  But now I had found my dream job, no stress, just fair work for a company I loved and people that felt like family. Despite this life altering good fortune, I was terrified to leave my house in the morning.  I kept the truck loaded with my necessities, but what if they evacuated us and I couldn’t get back in to get the animals? What if we couldn’t find a place to stay with them? How long would we have to be gone?  My work days were harried, constantly checking updates from reliable sources, and most days I left in a near state of panic. Everyday I drove home the smoke column was bigger. That is, when we could see.

The smoke was relentless.  Many mornings we couldn’t see the neighbors house.  We registered a 519 on the purple air scale that goes from 1-500.  The idea of allergies now seemed laughable as we all suffered from respiratory problems and could not exert ourselves in any way.  Our water kept getting shut off for repairs, my garden straight up refused to grow, and to wrap it all up, we had sent away the things I filled my “real life” with.  

Victor and I spent our evening hours sitting on the roof, sharing video clips of the flames easily visible from the house, towers of smoke and the only thing that rained was ash.  A charred caterpillar landed on my porch one evening. Helicopters flew low over our home, shaking the windows and terrifying my poor border collie, from sunup to sundown. We plastered the outside of our home with gratitude to firefighters.  No I don’t believe in miracles, but I do believe in firefighters. Not a single home was harmed by the 416 fire.

Unfortunately though, they were not trained to help with my mental health.  Horrible arguments erupted in an otherwise peaceful and happy relationship, featuring such fun topics as “are we allowed to open the windows?” “can the cats go outside?” and “Does the AC push in more smoke?”  I turned down invites that I am sure would have done me good for little more reason than the absolute fear of leaving unnecessarily, to say nothing of the unfathomable consequences of a hangover in these circumstances.  But don’t worry, we survived. And we learned about the need for sanctuary, stability, and home.

On July 31st, after burning 54,000 acres, the fire was 100% contained.  And then the flooding began.

As a person who lives for mountain thunderstorms, I have gone through another unasked for attitude adjustment.  Despite having been robbed of an official monsoon season, we live in constant fear of the isolated thunderstorm.  In less than 10 minutes of decent rain, our irrigation ditches fill with smokey black mostly-mud and it begins to spill over our roads and down into our yards.  Victor and I don our raincoats, grab our shovels and run out to help our neighbors try to divert the flood waters from vulnerable homes and landscapes. Our home is at less risk, being surrounded by a brick wall and sitting on blocks.  Kids, never let them tell you there is no advantage to living in a trailer.

In the end, as we purchase sandbags and prepare our landscaping for what may in fact be years of flood damage to come, we find that our home has always been the sanctuary we needed.  Especially as we head further into the murky dark of a political system that seems content to let everyone feel the hate, home is sacred. I have taken up guitar (again) on my patio, we can once again host game nights and barbecues, and my home can once again be the place there will always be plenty of food for everyone. The damage to our wilderness will take years to recover as we have seen with the missionary ridge burn area, but as most of us understand, fire is important.  It cleanses, balances and invigorates. Sound like a solution to some other things? I think so too.

An Evening With Richard Dawkins

Thanks to Member Robyn Baxendale for sharing this awesome experience with us.

An Evening with Richard Dawkins (aka the best night of my life!)

by Robyn Baxendale

It all started with some random guy handing me his parking pass, score! My daughter Lindsay and I then proceeded to walk along Pearl Street Mall in Boulder looking for a unique place to eat lupper (lunch + supper). On our way we stopped by the Boulder Theater to make sure we knew where to go later that evening (yep, I’m getting old) and I took the opportunity to snap a photo of Lindsay in front of the marquee.

Baxendale 01

The breakfast place Snooze tickled our fancy but they had just closed. We went back to the van and perused my phone for restaurant reviews and decided on the French bistro Brasserie Ten Ten known for their generous happy hour menu. It surely lived up to all the fuss, how could it not with cream filled mozzarella? We still had time before Dawkins so we decided to get our nails done. I’ve only had three manicures in my life, all for weddings (including my own!), Dawkins surely deserved the same attention to detail.

It was then time to head over to the theater. The line was long, snaking into the alley, and it was raining but lucky for me my jacket and pants were water resistant. Lindsay was not so fortunate (what a cruel mother I am!) The seating was general admission so we were a little apprehensive about our place in line. Should we have skipped the nail pampering and waited in line for an extra hour to guarantee choice seating?

As we entered the theater I overheard an employee telling some people that the balcony had a great view of the entire theater.  We headed up the stairs and low and behold found seats in the front row!Baxendale 02

Choosing the seats next to us were a pair of recent college grads and one of them offered to buy us drinks. “Umm, this is my 13 year old daughter and I’m her Mom, so no, she will not be having any Jameson in her Coke!” While he was getting our drinks we learned from his friend that an anthropology degree will get you a job as a beer line tech, good to know. Our drinks were delivered just as Dawkins was taking the stage.

Now was the moment we had all been waiting for! Dawkins was questioned for about hour by Annabelle Gurwitch of whom I was previously unaware but am now a fan. This was followed by a half hour of audience questions. I’m just going to list what Lindsay and I can recall from that time (quotes are paraphrased):

On the topic of new age hippie types Dawkins remarked, “They are pernicious but I don’t believe they are viciously pernicious.” In contrast to pernicious conservatives. Pernicious seemed to be his word of the night.

When asked by an audience member why teeth haven’t evolved to be cavity resistant Dawkins replied that he once asked his own dentist, Dr. Sharp, the same question. Dr. Sharp retired so he started seeing Dr. Tack. Dr. Tack asked Dawkins who his previous dentist was and he told him it was Dr. Sharp. Dr. Tack replied, “This couldn’t possibly be the work of Dr. Sharp. I know his work and this is not it!” But why haven’t our teeth evolved to resist cavities? We eat too much sugar! Dawkins wonders why Americans put sugar in everything, even beef stew!

People were asking Dawkins a plethora of political questions. He is an evolutionary biologist and an outspoken atheist so he was a bit perturbed that he was being asked so many questions outside of his expertise and lamented that he didn’t want to, “sit up here and be the wise old man.” That being said, when one audience member used his question time to make a political statement about the importance of getting involved in politics Dawkins chose to emphasize the point instead of brushing him off. Bravo! Dawkins then added that the squeaky wheel usually gets their way.

Dawkins believes that the arc of history bends towards justice but it’s like a saw tooth and we are on a downturn right now. Wah-wah.

He sees climate change as the most important problem we are facing right now. Not that we should ignore other problems but this is the most pressing.

Dawkins noted that our human tribes are more global now because of the internet rather than geographic as in the past. Gurwitch said that her next book was going to be about tribes versus tribalism.

A recovering Southern Baptist thanked Dawkins for opening his mind and changing his life. Dawkins said, “So many people have said that to me and I can’t tell you how much it means to me.” Applause!

Dawkins is tickled that gay marriage and marijuana were legalized around the same time in Colorado. After all, the Bible says that when a man lies with another man he shall be stoned.

Lastly, he was asked about finding meaning in life, ala Viktor Frankl. Dawkins replied that for genes it is simply about survival and propagation. As people, we create our own meaning.

It was now time for book signings. No selfies and have your book open to the title page, assembly line style. Dang. We were told to stay in our seats and we would be called up by rows. Well, seems they forgot about us lowly balcony dwellers so we just waited until we could see the end of the line. While in line we met Chauncey from Secular Hub in Denver. They have their own building and serve as a hot spot for all things secular. Check them out at: www.secularhub.org  Also while in line I was given a photo of Dawkins from CFI (Center for Inquiry) to be signed.

With these happy distractions my turn to hit the stage came as a shock. Equipped with a smile from ear to ear and a brain on auto pilot I somehow managed to get my book signed. And then this happened…Baxendale 03.jpg

Me: “Can I have a high five?” Dawkins: “What’s that? Like this?” Did he not know what a high five was or was he asking what I had said?! Either way, yay for me! I then proceeded to introduce Lindsay in the fashion of a spokes model, “Up next, the youngest member of our audience, my 13 year old daughter Lindsay!” Annabelle Gurwitch (apparently amused by my shenanigans) told Dawkins to give Lindsay a high five so that she could take a picture to post on social media. Lindsay high fived Dawkins several times and even got to hold the pose for this once in a lifetime photo op (good thing we got our nails done)!Baxendale 04

On our walk back to the car I was an ecstatic mess. I agreed that I would need to calm down before attempting to drive. After some convulsing, steering wheel shaking, and profusely praising Lindsay for having the foresight to take a video of my Dawkins high five encounter we were off.

Now, it wouldn’t be fair to my husband or kids to name this the best night of my life but…this is one squeaky wheel still grinning from ear to ear. Creating my own meaning with my daughter by my side, it doesn’t get much better than this!










Our Sign Is Up!

Great news! Our Durango Skeptics and Atheists “Adopt a Highway” sign is finally up.  We are very excited about this and hope that if you are driving up to Coal Bank Pass, you will check it out and let us know how it looks (or if it’s still intact….).

Thanks to Adam for organizing this group effort.

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