Friday, March 17, 2006

Checkmate! All politics are local.

I was lucky enough to buy a house with an extraordinary view of the FlatIrons (foothills of the Rocky Mountains for you non-locals). Between us and the mountains is an open farm which until recently had nothing but a few horses on it. Very beautiful. There is a fair bit of open space around here as well which I hope remains.

Shortly after moving in I noticed an ad in the local paper from the Township looking for additional members of the planning commission. I went down to Town Hall and spoke to a nice lady about the possibility of getting onto said commission. Things were going swimmingly until I gave her my address and she looked it up on map on her wall. "Sorry", she said, "there are already 3 people who live on the same ridge as you that are on the commission, but thank you for your interest." OK, so I wasn't the first person with the same view who decided that protecting said view was important. As it turns out, there are 22 houses with more or less the same view and 3 of those 22 have commission memberships in a township of thousands! I got the names and addresses of the others and at the first block party made a point of finding them and having a chat. Apparently the farmer wants to sell his land to a developer and put hundreds of houses between me and my mountains. Not to worry, I am told, the commission is stacked against him.

We have enjoyed living here for a few years now in basically the same status quo until a few weeks ago. My wife got a call from a neighbor. What did we think about the sign the farmer put up indicating he was starting a pig farm. As wives do, mine somewhat hysterically, came to get me from my office. With binoculars I found the sign across the hill. It is something like a half mile from our homes. There is a little building and a small pen and a couple of water troughs. "And?" was my reply. Like I could possibly care about 10 pigs that far away from the house. I couldn't even see the sign without binoculars, let alone read it. Let the man raise a few pigs.

If you haven't given up yet, hang with me, the funny part starts in the next paragraph. A few days ago two donkeys showed up just on the other side of the road behind the house. Donkeys? What the heck does he want with two donkeys? Is there a business in breeding donkeys? I suppose there is, but can you make money at it? Oh well, if he wants donkeys, let him have his donkeys. Donkeys aren't cool as horses but they are ok to watch frolic through a field.

Later in the day a bunch of guys showed up and proceeded to attempt to shoe one of them. Now, for you city folks, shoeing a donkey is not like shoeing a horse. Most young horses fight being shoed the first few times then decide it isn't worth the trouble. Most adult horses can be shoed in an open field by one guy who knows what he is doing. You tap a knee and the horse will give you the hoof. Donkeys, with few exceptions, never get calm about somebody messing with their feet. So if you are going to shoe a donkey you put him in a shoeing pen. The inside of the pen is not much wider than the donkey and there are well placed boards to prevent the animal from kicking you, assuming you know what you are doing and the pen has been built properly. These guys had a shoeing pen that was 8 feet wide. So right off I am thinking, this is not a good idea. As I watch them get to work they start on the donkeys left hind leg. This, also, is not a good idea. Start front, move back. It is harder to get kicked when you are on the donkey's side than past his hind quarters. So by now I have my binoculars out. This is going to be entertaining! After 4 or 5 rounds of the donkey pulling his leg back under him the guy who is supposed to be doing the shoeing calls for help. One of the other men there is called back to help him hold the leg. He proceeds to hold the leg at about the knee, leaning across the back of the donkey. By now the woman holding the donkey's head has gotten bored and is letting the donkey do a bit of looking around.

So, here is the picture. 5 or 6 folks in a much too big pen. One woman up by the head allowing the donkey to look back his left side. One guy trying to shoe the left rear leg and another guy straining to keep the leg still with his head crossing the midpoint of the animal at the rear. Two other guys I can see just standing around and giving clearly unhelpful advise. If you aren't laughing yet, you have never seen a donkey or a horse kick somebody. The donkey is clearly lining up his shot. I go get the video camera. I am going to be on Letterman, I can feel it in my bones. Video camera now set and two sets of binoculars out so somebody else can laugh with me. I am now having trouble watching because the tears in my eyes from laughing so hard are getting in the way. The holder just keeps leaning farther and farther across the animal.

At this point, the other donkey who has been happily frolicking through the field comes over. Nose to nose with each other the "free" donkey seems to be saying "Dude, beautiful day, come play with me!". Then he looks back at the shoeing fiasco and back to his buddy. "Dude, are you gonna let them do that to you?"


Thankfully, nobody got kicked. On the humor front, they worked at this for more than an hour and as far as I can tell (and I checked the tape) they never got a single shoe on the donkey. We haven't seen them come back to attempt this again so I suspect we have two new shoeless donkey neighbors. They seem happy with their new home, so all is well.

Today, along comes Chalan Harper, reporter for the local township paper. She rang our doorbell this morning and chatted with my wife for a while. My wife then came up to my office and asked for me to come down and talk to her. Chalan was both professional and very pleasant. She has been covering the story for months. Apparently the guy plans to put hundreds of pigs on the property. He is just starting very small so they can figure out what they are doing. He may put a bunkhouse back by the pigs. Etc, etc. What do I think about it? "Well", I say, "you either have to let the man sell his property to a developer or you leave him zoned agricultural and you have to let him have his pigs." She then asks the money question. "Would you rather him have pigs or sell and have more housing behind you?" I think to her surprise and much to my wife's astonishment "Frankly I would rather have the pigs."

As some background, I grew up on a farm where either we or one of our neighbors grew or raised just about anything that can be raised in the midwest. Our next door neighbors raised pigs all of my life. My dad raised some while I was in college. Pigs are smart and remarkably clean when allowed to be. Pig farms that "stink" are full of very unhappy pigs. As long as he has happy pigs we can be good neighbors.

Chalan then asks us how we think our neighbors will react. My wife responds "I think most of them will be afraid their property values are about to plummet!".

My answer, "She is right. Checkmate! He gets to sell to the developer."

Bad for me, eventually, but very good for him. And really, not so bad to me. The developers plan is to put in large estates worth much more than my home. That has to be good for my property value. It takes years to get water contracts around here so I assume all will be status quo for a while.

He did nothing illegal or even offensive. He looked out for his economic interests in a very smart, calculated and savvy way. Very American. Hats off. Now is the time for the commission and the rest of us to make a deal we can all live with and let him sell his land or buy it at some reasonable price and keep it open.

BTW, according to Chalan the donkeys were bought to protect the pigs from coyotes, which are pretty prevalent out here. That hadn't occurred to me but it makes a ton of sense. Donkeys are very aggressive about protecting their territory. They can be very vicious. Only a starving coyote would risk being kicked by a donkey to get to a pig. Donkeys are not much more expensive to keep than a dog and a whole lot easier to fence in.

I wait with baited breath to see Chalan's latest article on this topic. I get the feeling she could actually make it big as a reporter. This isn't a big story nationally or state-wide but it is a big story for those of us who live in this little corner of the world and she has clearly spent a lot of time and leg work to be well informed and get input from all the people impacted. All politics are local and good reporters usually start out there and work their way up through recognition. We need more of those and I wish her all the luck in the world.


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