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PROFILE: Crystal “Pistol” Edmunds

Falling from her nape is a leather-clad circlet of picture jasper, from which two spent bullet casings dangle. Crystal “Pistol” Edmunds bought the necklace to complete her costume for last week’s Red Lady Salvation Ball. She explains that this particular type of “landscape” jasper’s spiritual attributes is representative of a landscape to unite humanity to save the earth.
Crystal resides in the notorious Love Bath house and she is the newly crowned 37th Red Lady. She may wear tutus, tiaras and fairy gossamer but make no mistake, Crystal Edmunds is a serious academic and crusader who studies connections between poverty, economics, natural resources and environment. “My name’s Crystal Pistol, you know, for a reason,” she giggles with unstoppable enthusiasm.
She grew up in Perrysburg, Ohio, 45 minutes south of Detroit on the Maumee River. “It was so magical,” Crystal says of her childhood home right on the banks of the river that is connected to Lake Erie. She had a clan of seven brothers and sisters who were raised by “right wing financial broker” parents who allowed their kids to explore.
Crystal remembers many days spent on the water. “I loved going out on a boat on the river,” she tells. “We had pontoons, canoes, paddle and speed boats. We could go explore the islands in the river and because there were so many of us our parents would just let us go out. We were our own crew.”
The haven of beauty she experienced, from gardening with her grandmother to building tree forts with her siblings, was a major influence in defining her adult path.
Having attended all-girl’s Catholic schools throughout her life apparently didn’t lead her down an entirely straight and narrow path either, but Crystal confesses that it certainly influenced her in many ways.
“It turned me very academic,” she says and adds, “I loved certain parts of school. I didn’t connect with a lot of my classmates there but my best friend in high school was the free spirited hippie chick who was also very deep and we’d go out to coffee and have incredible conversations.”
The big paradigm shift for Crystal happened when she did a project on the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. “I discovered that in class when you learned about genocide it was primarily about the Holocaust of World War Two,” but studying the Balkan Wars made her realize how genocide was still occurring, with the ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims and Croats.
“When Yugoslavia was put back together after the Second World War, it was put back together ignoring a lot of the cultural groups,” Crystal says. “The leader, Milosevic, aggravated a lot of the sectarian tensions, pitting people against each other—Muslims, Serbs, Croatians, Christians—and basically, that lead to the violence in that region.”
Crystal says passionately that studying the Balkan wars made her want to be a foreign correspondent, and in 2005, she headed off to Ohio University in the foothills of the Appalachians, where she received a bachelor of science degree in journalism with a certificate for international studies in 2009. As part of the university’s program in Global Leadership, Crystal was able to travel abroad to the University of Bangkok in Thailand.
“That just did it. I was there for only a month but it just opened up my eyes, my whole world. After that I just wanted to see and experience so much more of the world and go outside of my comfort zone.” Crystal trekked off to Calcutta, India, which was a bit more out of her comfort zone than she had bargained for.
“I had a really difficult time being in the slums,” Crystal admits. “I had never seen that level of poverty. I was teaching English in the Mother Teresa Motherhouse village schools for three months. There was a lot of pollution and sickness, a lot of the kids had boils. I felt so helpless. I had been thinking of joining the Peace Corps after college but it made me realize that I wanted to go to grad school first to study more and get stronger physically and mentally because I cried every day I was in India,” Crystal says of her emotional times there.
“The big story when I was in India was the farmer suicides, by ingesting the pesticides that Monsanto had given them. It started in the Punjab region that is the breadbasket of the country. The farmers were given Monsanto seeds and a lot of the seeds either failed or the farmers were becoming so in debt that they committed suicide,” Crystal says.
And that, Crystal says with conviction, propelled her even more. “When I came back to the U.S. I knew what I wanted to do.” She came west to the University of Denver to enroll in the Peace Corps Masters International program.
“My family had skied the Front Range in Colorado and I always had the image of the west’s mountains and open space in my mind,” she smiles. “Once I got there it was like, ‘DONE, I’m moving out west,’” Crystal laughs. She studied trade agreements and international monetary relations, with genocide as a big part of those studies but in the realm of resource economics.
“I always went back to how economics impacted natural resource management. I grew up with the image of starving Ethiopia and Niger and wondered what the roots of that were. I studied the water rights in the Nile Basin and since Egypt is one of our biggest allies, and because of its geopolitical importance in the whole region, it owns 80 percent of the water in the Nile, so Ethiopia has very little water rights of the Nile, which has completely hindered its development.
“By studying those things,” Crystal continues, “I tried to study the links between money and natural resources. I wanted to understand the roots of poverty in general. It’s really complex and depressing stuff.”
Crystal frowns and suggests that Niger, under French colonial power, turned the forest service into a paramilitary organization and made it illegal to plant trees, which, she feels, may have been because Niger has the highest grade of uranium deposits in Africa. She received her master’s degree from DU in global finance, trade and economic integration.
On a sojourn weekend Crystal headed up to Crested Butte, which had been recommended by her parents. “Just driving into the valley, I completely fell in love with it. I saw all the red prayer flags around town and I asked people what they meant and was told the story of the Red Lady, the mining history and everything that was going on. I was in total awe of the community’s love of its surrounds, its connection to nature. In my studies, I felt that so much conflict and poverty was rooted in people becoming disenfranchised from their natural resources,” but Crystal believes the people of Crested Butte get it.
At that time, Crystal was taking a class in geographic information systems. Crystal explains, “Like cartography, to give a visual representation of spatial data for various applications. In that class we needed a real world client to do a project for. After leaving Crested Butte I wanted to show visually how mining would impact watershed health in this area so I contacted High Country Citizens Alliance [now the High Country Conservation Advocates]. I ended up doing my project for them.”
When a position opened up at the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition (CCWC), Crystal was asked to apply. While waiting for the job to start, she worked on organic farms in New Mexico, Arizona and California, living out of her car. “My original plan when I took this job with the CCWC was to work for two years and then go into the Peace Corps. It’s now been two years so I’m working on my application.
“I hope to go to Jordan, Armenia or Azerbaijan,” Crystal  says. “Jordan has 600,000 refugees from Syria right now. I want to study how water resources and environmental insecurity are either fostering the conflict in that area or a cause of it. Jordan, Palestine, Israel and Libya ran out of water in the 1950s and ‘60s and three-quarters of the region’s available fresh water is in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. The Golan Heights is the site of a major aquifer and these are the things I want to bring more of a connection to in understanding. I want to see if the people of the region understand or think these are major causes of conflict. I also want to go back into journalism. I see myself doing that in some capacity, whether it’s in a think tank or as a professor.” Crystal has set her feet firmly onto her next path.
Somewhere between all her work as the watershed coordinator for the CCWC and her continuing studies, Crystal manages to ski, hike, bike and both practice and teach yoga to give her life balance. “Studying yoga has made me think more about the energetics of people. I became interested in yoga as part of understanding the world and my own being,” Crystal says. She teaches Prana Flow at Yoga for the Peaceful.
A cactus sits on her desk, prickly close to the coffee cup she reaches for, almost mimicking the precarious balance of the world she hopes to improve. Crystal says her hand never mistakes one for the other. “There’s so much that I want to learn about the world. I would love for my path to return to Crested Butte,” but she acknowledges that she needs to get out into the world. “I’m not sure how it’s all gonna play out in the future. We need a lot more people thinking about the inter-connectiveness of the world. I think right now the chaos is a sign that we’re not on that level. The major thing that I learned in India is that this life is not meant to be lived for ourselves—we’ve got to live for one another more. We’re in such different worlds and we’ve got to find a way to unite them.” This pistol of a Red Lady is destined to move mountains.

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