Colorado: land of 10,000 lakes? 

Ranger Rich

The artist Christo, as you've likely heard, is planning a project called Over the River with steel cables anchored in 2,400 enormous cement blocks draping a 34-mile section of the Colorado River with Oprah Winfrey's thong.

Seriously, Christo, who began planning Over the River some 15 years ago with his late wife, Jeanne-Claude, wants to drape shimmering fabric panels across about six miles of the Arkansas River between Cañon City and Salida — a barren, worthless stretch of America that now has only wild trout, bighorn sheep and those nasty, hateful bald eagles that, as you know, often attack children.

For more than a decade Over the River has generated thousands of news stories as federal, state and local government employees work tirelessly to review environmental studies and other documents in between their 28 daily coffee breaks and, of course, lunch, which typically runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Poet and artist Autumn Hall, who lives up the road in the tiny hamlet of Green Mountain Falls, has some strong concerns about Christo's proposal. So she recently sent a letter to Sen. Michael Bennet, who favors the project.

"It disappoints me greatly," she wrote, "that a leader with your espoused concern for and record of legislation championing the environment is lending your public support to Christo's Over the River project. Although I am a poet and artist myself, I see this project as Ego Over the Environment."

She detailed her concerns and closed by asking Sen. Bennet to "consider taking a stand for Colorado and against Christo."

Actual excerpts from Sen. Bennet's response: "Dear Autumn: Thanking you for contacting me regarding the St. Croix River Crossing Project. I appreciate hearing from you."

Many might assume "Thanking you for contacting me" was written by a Russian trying to learn English. I would be agreeing now very much, today if not yesterday.

Some of you, however, may be wondering, "What is the St. Croix River Crossing Project, and what does it have to do with Christo's plan to suspend Oprah's undies across the river?"

Bennet's letter to Hall continues: "As you noted in your letter, the Minnesota Department of Transportation has proposed constructing a four-lane bridge over the Lower St. Croix River. Last March, a Minneapolis court ruled the proposal violated the U.S. Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

"Please know that I will closely monitor further judicial review on the St. Croix River Crossing Project.

"Sincerely, Michael Bennet, United States Senator."

I met Autumn in a Manitou Springs coffee shop to talk about her letter and the bizarre reply from Bennet, who perhaps confused Colorado and Minnesota because both have four syllables. And, of course, because they rhyme.

"I've written letters to politicians before because I feel as though I have to do my part," she said. "I keep thinking that maybe there's an off-chance a politician might actually listen to the people."

At that point I halted the interview for a few moments while I mopped up the latté and whipped cream I'd blown out of my nose.

I later called Bennet's office and got this from spokesman Adam Bozzi: "We received Autumn's letter and wrote a response but when we went to send it we accidentally selected a different letter on another issue related to a river. We respond to roughly 50,000 constituent inquires every month. An occasional clerical error will happen."

Autumn, who says she still supports Bennet, responded to the goofy letter with another, pointing out — paraphrasing here — that the Lower St. Croix River in Minnesota has nothing to do with an art project in Colorado, and that he and his staff should stop sniffing glue.

She got another response from Bennet's office that did not mention either state or either river or Christo's plan. It did say this: "The best ideas come from people in Colorado, not politicians in Washington. That's why it's so important for me to hear your thoughts on how we can build a better future for Colorado and our country, together."

And somewhere in this great land, a bull was looking for some toilet paper.


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