Best Of Times Worst Of Times

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Whew. What a year.

Droughts, flames, hungry children, foreclosed homes, shriveling economies, lingering wars, mounting unemployment, an imploding state budget.

Terrible times — especially for those who have lost their jobs, their homes, their hope.

So how is it that even now — our blessings seem so abundant?

Why do we feel so lucky?

Maybe it’s just living here.

Maybe it’s waking up each morning to some unexpected flush of beauty — the rise of the summer trout, the tremble of the fall leaves, the boughs bent beneath the first snowfall, the imperishable hope of spring.

Maybe it’s just that deep breath of cold, clean air, the mocking caw of the ravens, the ponderous lift of the great blue heron, the grave stare of the antlered elk, the intricate, snuffling grunts of the foraging javelina, the acrobatics of the great-tailed tree squirrels.

Surely, that’s part of it — but not all of it.

More than that. Much more.

Maybe it’s how easy it is to find the latest candidate for the Roundup’s Good Guy award. Maybe it’s the 25,000 pounds of food donated already to the food banks. Maybe it’s the number of churches and charities and donors and volunteers crowded into so small a place. Maybe it’s the donated care packages packed up and sent to the troops overseas.

Maybe it’s the endless fascination of the strange paths, deep wisdom and love of life that brings people here —making do with less money for the beauty and for the chance to shop where folks greet you by name in a town that looks after its own.

It’s all of that, of course.

So bless you, dearhearts.

Thanks for keeping us in business all year long — even through the hard times. Thanks for sharing your stories and shoring up our hearts with your courage and wit and determination to carry on.

Granted, if you carefully examine the leading economic indicators, you can say that this was the worst of times.

But out the window just now, the clouds have gathered up against the Rim — billows of beauty harboring another dusting of snow for the long cliff face. And close at hand in the parking lot, a glossy black raven is foraging — bumptious with knowing he can fly upside down.

And further still out that window, our beloved readers are going on about their business, dogged and brave and hopeful on the last day of a bad year.

So against all odds, we must conclude that these are the best of times after all.

God bless us every one.

Forest Service merits credit

Now, it’s easy enough to throw pine cones at the poor U.S. Forest Service. We’ve hurled more than a few at the keeper of Rim Country’s treasure — and destiny.

After all, it’s a massive federal bureaucracy charged with the almost impossible task of managing 6 million acres of forests in Central Arizona while somehow satisfying the conflicting demands of environmentalists, loggers, off-roaders, hikers, campers and tourists.

Still, we thought we’d confuse the poor, brow-beaten rangers out there by concluding the year with a big atta-boy for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.

Managers there made great strides this year in moving toward a whole new set of goals in managing some 2 million acres of public forests.

Instead of mindlessly snuffing out forest fires, they managed to use wildfires to thin 21,000 acres of dangerously overgrown forest.

Instead of wringing their hands at an overwhelming problem, they thinned another 14,000 acres of forest to protect endangered communities.

Instead of throwing up their hands, they have worked on an innovative contract with timber companies to turn some 150,000 acres of unhealthy tree thickets into wood products.

Instead of lamenting the lack of money, they did enough preliminary work that they landed $20 million in stimulus funds for thinning and infrastructure.

Granted, the problems remain formidable and the contradictory demands intractable.

But the forest managers in the Apache-Sitgreaves made good progress in a bad year.

Way to go, guys.

This is one pine cone you can put on the mantle.

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