This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

May 26, 2005 - flocked!

In almost every respect, my life is blessed. But that doesn't stop me from being tired out at the end of a day at the library, or a little irritated for reasons that make sense to me at the time.

But it's really, really hard to stay in a bad mood when you come home and find your front yard filled with flamingos.

Well, OK, not filled. There were just seven of them. But they were pink.

Smiling hugely, I noticed that there was a pink sheet of paper hanging from one of the bird's necks. It read:

"You've been flocked!"

Underneath that, it said, "Wanna Play? Here's how it works:"

For $5, I could call somebody and they would remove the flamingos. For $10, I could "flock" somebody else.

But for just $15 bucks, I could not only flock somebody else, but find out who flocked me.

Finally, if I just didn't want to play, I could slip out of that, too.

The rest of the sheet informed me that this was a fundraiser to benefit the C.J. Mosman Memorial Fund, established to build a pavilion at Metzler Park in Castle Rock.

Honestly, it was a pleasure to play, and a pleasure to pay. I think this is one of the most utterly charming fundraisers I've run across.

C.J. was a teenager who died in a car accident on Crowfoot Valley Road in March of 2004. The money will be used to build a pavilion in his memory near one of the baseball diamonds. C.J. played baseball for 11 years, nine of them in the county.

This sweet and lovely idea is a most gentle way to face some disturbing truths. Below are some statistics from the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.


* Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers.
* 16 year-olds have higher crash rates than drivers of any other age.
* It is estimated that 16-year-olds are 3 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle crash than the average of all drivers.

In Colorado:

* 96 16-20 year-olds died on Colorado roadways in 2004; 91 died in 2003.
* In 2004, 44 16-17 year olds were killed in car crashes. 37 were killed in 2003.
* In 2004, 65.6% of Colorado teens killed in car crashes were not wearing seat belts.
* In 2004, nearly 80% of teen passengers who died in car crashes were riding with teen drivers.

There's some good news.

* Colorado's graduated licensing law went into effect July 1, 1999.
* Teen drivers get their licenses in "graduated stages" to allow them more experience behind the wheel before they can drive without an adult.
* The law adds restrictions during high-risk situations, such as nighttime driving and restricts the number of peers in the vehicle.
* Colorado's law requires 50 hours of driving time with a responsible adult before they can obtain their license. The new driver is required to fill out a written log that is signed by an adult driver.
* The Colorado law establishes a curfew from midnight to 5 a.m. for new drivers. Young people with a written work permit are exempt when driving to and from work during those hours.
* The Colorado law allows newly licensed drivers to have one front seat passenger and requires a seat belt for every person in the front and back seats of the vehicle.

It happens that I lost my 16 year old sister to a car accident, many years ago. I know the pain this can cause to a family, and how long that pain can endure.

That's all the more reason I admire the Freeman/Mosman families' efforts to turn tragedy into local improvement -- and to put a smile on my face just exactly when I needed it.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

May 19, 2005 - Will Durant

Sometimes I think I should learn Latin.

After three years of high school French, I could read it reasonably well. Over time, that skill faded. C'est dommage.

Many years later, when I was the director of the Greeley Public Library, I took a Spanish class. But it did little more than ALMOST revive some of my French.

In fact, French and Spanish (and Italian, and Portugese, and others) are "corruptions" of Latin. That is, they are what happened to Latin after lots of people, over great distances, started applying their local variations of speech. Sometime, I'd like to follow the Romance languages back to their source.

I'm thinking about this because I just finished reading a recently discovered last manuscript of Pulitzer-prize-winning historian and former Latin professor, Will Durant.

Durant, author (with his beloved wife, Ariel) of "The Story of Civilization," died at the age of 96. His plan, for this final book of historical essays, was to write 23 chapters. He finished 21.

After his death, the manuscript "would survive three moves and a major flood" until John Little "happened upon it in the winter of 2001 -- twenty years after Will Durant had finished it."

The book is called "Heroes of History: A Brief History of Civilization from Ancient Times to the Dawn of the Modern Age." The prose is magnificent, stately, and wise.

Here's a favorite example: "We cannot know what God is, nor understand a universe so mingled of apparent evil and good, of suffering and loveliness, destruction and sublimity; but in the presence of a mother tending her child, or of an informed will giving order to chaos, meaning to matter, nobility to form or thought, we feel as close as we shall ever be to the life and law that constitute the incomprehensible intelligence of the world."

As always, the magic of literacy is that we can still, five years after the author's death, and 119 years after his birth, sit with Professor Durant, listen enthralled to his stories, and try to absorb some of his lessons.

And what are those lessons?

Foremost is that civilization is largely the accomplishment of women, who first invented agriculture, and then have sought -- with enormous difficulty and only partial success -- to domesticate man.

To Durant, civilization is a harnessing of the biological drives of our species -- to fight, to acquire, to know pleasure, to procreate. The harnessing influences include the family, religion, the state.

Durant observes that history oscillates between excess and puritanism, from concentration of wealth to often violent revolution.

But it is more than that. It is also, he writes, "a veritable City of God, in which the creative spirits of the past, by the miracles of memory and tradition, still live and work, carve and build and sing."

Durant's measured, balanced prose, modeled on the writings of ancient Romans, is a fine tonic for our times. One does not find in his writing the pea-brained and petty partisanship of so many of our leading lights today. One does not find screed and contumely.

Instead, there is illumination, a steady, penetrating light that looks upon the parade of the ages, and finds it rich, and beautiful, and good.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

May 12, 2005 - One Step at a Time

When I was in 5th grade, my family moved from our blue collar, working class neighborhood to an older, established area. The next day we were visited by one of our neighbors, welcoming us.

She gave us something I had never seen before: lox and bagels.

In retrospect, I suppose Mrs. Shklair was the first Jew I'd ever met. I had no particular preconceptions. I just classified her as nice, funny, and bearing the most extraordinary food.

By two years later, lox and bagels had become our basic Sunday breakfast. And we played with the Shklair children.

In college, I traded my first roommate for another, more congenial and interesting. My new roommate was a Jew, also, and through him I learned that the web of parental guilt woven by Jewish mothers more than equaled the work of their Catholic sisters, whom until then, I thought were the champs.

But I don't think it was until the late 1980's that I ran across people who flat out denied the Holocaust. These were the Aryan nation folks, filled with such obvious sputtering hatred and ignorance that it was impossible to take them seriously.

Apparently, many people did, however, some even claiming to be scholars.

The deniers are wrong, of course. Even as the direct eye-witnesses to the truth begin to fade away, the evidence -- photographs, manuscripts, the simple disappearance of over 12 million people (at least 6 million Jews, and another 6 million of various other groups) -- is overwhelming. An excellent response to the deniers' absurdities is the website www.holocaust-history.org.

Or if you still prefer the tangible weight of a book, typing "holocaust" into the library catalog will deliver over 755 matches.

There are time, when reading human history, I despair. It seems we have barely to scratch the civilized creature to unleash the savage. There are those who believe the Holocaust could never happen again, and certainly not here. I think it could.

I fear the cycles of history, the societal surge, just as the memory of one horror dies, to play it all through again.

But the endurance of the human race rests, as always, with the young. And that's my more hopeful topic for this week: a play, written, developed, designed, and produced by a group of Douglas County teenagers. They were gently but masterfully facilitated by Susan Littman -- but she underscores that this original work is the sole product of the young people.

Their name is the Youth Ensemble Series, or YES. They are associated with the Castle Rock Players. Their play, "One Step at a Time," is actually two plays.

It begins with something that I suspect happens in many high schools today: the bullying of one victim by the crowd. One student is assigned to write a report on the Holocaust. And slowly, the students take on the roles of young people in Germany, at the beginning of the Nazi era.

In the next hour and a half, some truly touching stories are told. And finally, it all comes back to today.

The students not only put in a lot of research, they were also visited, and lectured to, by two Holocaust survivors. The play builds on real experiences.

YES already put on one performance. They'll be doing a couple of more. The next public showing will be at the Philip S. Miller on Saturday, May 14, 7:30 p.m. Admission is free.

It happens that Holocaust Awareness Month was in April. But the lessons are still timely -- and timeless.

Thursday, May 5, 2005

May 5, 2005 - A Photographic Journey

There are now four excellent introductions to the history of Douglas County. The first, pioneering title was Josephine Marr's "Douglas County : a Historical Journey." The second was Susie Appleby's wonderful and meticulous "Fading Past: the Story of Douglas County, Colorado." The third was the Douglas County Historical Society's collection of family histories: "Our Heritage: the People of Douglas County."

And now, there's "Douglas County, Colorado: A Photographic Journey," by the Castle Rock Writers.

The book was published by our very own Douglas County Libraries Foundation, and was partially underwritten by a grant from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Foundation.

The book has 11 chapters:

* "Castle Rock: County Seat Takes Shape," by Derald Hoffman
* "Franktown: the Gardner Legacy," by Kathleen McCoy and Marjorie Meyerle
* "Greenland, Spring Valley, and Cherry Valley: Ranchers' Paradise," by Susan Koller
* "Highlands Ranch and Daniels Park: Reinventing Itself," by the Castle Rock Writers
* "Larkspur and Perry Park: a Place to Settle and Play," by Susan Koller
* "Lone Tree: From One Small Tree," by Kathleen McCoy
* "Louviers: From Rolling Hills to Du Pont Company Town," by Alice Aldridge-Dennis
* "Parker: the Twenty Mile Landmark," by Kathleen McCoy and Elizabeth Wallace
* "Roxborough Park: a Great Place to Drive Dull Cares Away," by Susan Trumble
* "Sedalia: Town at the Crossroads", by Laura Adema, and
* "Western Region: the Rugged and Beautiful South Platte," by Laura Adema.

The book is packed with pictures, usually two per page. The Castle Rock Writers group supplies a paragraph for each one, setting context, and telling tales.

For instance, as recently as 1870, there were Indians visiting Parker. "Mrs. Young, a homesteader, recalls a band begging for food one day. Since she was just about to discard a batch of biscuits in which she had used too much soda, she decided to offer those to them instead. They thought the biscuits were delicious and continued on their way."

Chief Washington (although we aren't told what he was the chief of, or how he came by the unlikely name of Washington) visited Parker annually -- and once tried to swap as many as 20 ponies for Elizabeth Tallman's 2 year old son. He was, said Mrs. Tallman, "very much disgusted when I would not accept such a good trade."

What I wonder about both these stories is to what extent there was some Native American humor going on here.

I was struck, reading through the book, by just how much we've lost. Gone are the cottonwoods of Castle Rock. Gone is the magnificent courthouse, torched in 1978. Gone is the Castlewood Canyon Dam, built to endure forever in 1890, burst in 1933. Gone is the Carlson Frink Creamery of Larkspur, and the Nanichant Inn of Perry Park. Gone the Manhart Grocery of Sedalia. Gone are churches and schools -- all swept away by fire or flood or what we earnestly assure ourselves must be progress.

Still with us of course is Tweet Kimball's Castle, the Old Stone Church, the Comasonry headquarters, St. Phillip in the Field, Bud's Bar, and much more.

This book, an outgrowth of meetings of local writers, is a wonderful gift for newcomers. (And finally, aren't all of us newcomers?) The book would also make for an excellent companion as you travel around Douglas County.

"Douglas County, Colorado: A Photographic Journey" can be purchased at our libraries and select area bookstores. The money comes straight back to our Foundation. If this is a success, we may be interested in other ventures that help people understand our history.

To the writers, our heartfelt thanks for telling us about our past.