Bird by bird…

Good advice I’ve heeded through the years is to take things bird by bird to get good things done…or in my case this past weekend, stroke by stroke. But a big house project all came around to again seeing a great trait of our community through the fumes of 20 gallons of siding stain.

Spending four, eight-hour days on a ladder breathing oil-based stain fumes is not the best way to enjoy a sunny weekend at 9,000 feet, but it accomplished a needed house project that was put off for years. It also gave me a lot of time to think, but the fumes are lingering a day later, and I don’t remember most of what crossed my mind 23 feet above the ground.

Staining a house takes time. Just the idea can be overwhelming when looking at the size of a house and the size of a brush. It’s probably one reason it didn’t get done for so long.

In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott focuses on writing and life. It is a good book. One lesson she imparts is that when facing a daunting task, take it one piece at a time. A worthy task can be full of challenge and frustration and also very rewarding. Just start and see what happens. 

The title Bird by Bird comes from advice that her dad gave her then 10-year old brother who had let a three-month school deadline slip to the very last minute and was faced with having to compose a big report on birds in a single night. He panicked and froze as he thought of the task ahead. “(My brother) was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”

Good life advice. That’s how I did the house. One stroke at a time. I took it stroke by stroke. And four days later, 95% of the house is richer and darker than a week ago. Of course, I had help from family and it wasn’t easy, but it got done…and looks great by the way! In the haze of redwood stain fumes, it was also a reminder of how we accomplish real things in the valley—bird by bird.

In this world of screens and instant gratification where one expects easy answers to sometimes complicated issues, this community has taken the approach to get things done. Big problems are daunting, but the folks here understand they can be faced one step at a time. 

Yeah, there isn’t enough affordable housing for people who want to live near where they work. There probably never will be but it can be better. Since the 1990s, the town of CB has taken on the issue one stroke at a time. The town set aside land in the 1990s for mobile homes at the entrance to town. They used carrots and sticks to get more deed restrictions on homes in Crested Butte. The community found ways to incentivize homeowners to use small accessory dwelling units and alley houses for people. And when compared to most other mountain resort communities in the Rockies, Crested Butte today has one of the highest percentages of full-time residents actually living in town. About 65% of the homes in CB are occupied by residents year round. Other resort towns are closer to 30%.

As experience and money have expanded in the valley, there are two major workforce housing projects that will likely see dirt turned within a year or two. The Sixth and Butte Mineral Point project should begin this fall and includes 34 rentals for people not making a lot of money as well as deed-restricted home ownership opportunities in Paradise Park. The Whetstone project south of Crested Butte will, in theory, add about 230 units dedicated for workers. The hope is to begin that project in the fall of 2024. That likely means another 450-600 people living in the North Valley and being a lot closer to their jobs than the workers who live in Leadville and work in Aspen or Vail. Throw in the potential of the North Village, Homestead and projects in Gunnison, and the community is figuring out ways to keep a vibrant full-time community living in this magical place that could have easily turned into just another enclave for the super-rich. Bird by bird.

The RTA started out 20 years ago as an avenue to support airlines coming into the valley. It gradually added bus service up and down the valley. In 2008, its first year on the road, it provided 11 roundtrips in the winter, three roundtrips in the spring and fall and nine in the summer. Right now, there are 28 roundtrips going between Gunnison and Mt. Crested Butte every day this summer. This winter there could be up to 42 roundtrips every day. Bird by bird.

Other models of local success reached step-by-step through relationships, truth to place and honest commitment to compromise and respect include things like the Gunnison Basin Strategic Sage Grouse Committee, the myriad trail systems at both ends of the valley that weave in and out of public and private property. In that vein, there are the Crested Butte Conservation Corps, the Gunnison Trails trail crews and the STOR Corps backcountry crews. U.S. Senator Michael Bennett is working hard with local recreationists, ranchers, businesspeople, wildlife advocates and conservation groups to come up with the Gunnison Outdoor Resources Protection Act that could benefit our region. It has taken awhile but it keeps moving forward. Bird by bird.

I tuned in to a Gunnison County commissioner’s meeting last week. It was at that meeting that Western Colorado University representatives laid out the basics of their new strategic plan. 

Commissioners Jonathan Houck and Laura Puckett Daniels (LPD) praised the plan for its return to seeing its location as a positive, its commitment to a liberal arts education element and its acknowledgment that it too will have to address challenges like housing one step at a time. 

“Our community excels in problem solving and that is in part through the application of the skills that are the foundation of a liberal arts education,” said Houck. He said this community can see challenges and look at different ways to solve problems and then take the numerous, not always easy, steps needed to finish something. Bird by bird. 

Accomplishing real goals and not just coming up with more plans comes through creativity and resilience. It’s not thinking a magic wand is out there to suddenly fix everything. But it’s what we do as a community. Being able to communicate with friends, neighbors and adversaries is also important in any successful endeavor. LPD agreed a liberal arts education can help provide all those skills and emphasized the value of communication and lasting relationships. That too is part of our “brand” if you will. Add to it by not making the mistake of letting the perfect get in the way of the good (my staining job certainly was not perfect, but it was good) and it all adds up to success.

The fumes are still swirling in my brain, and I am sure there are a thousand of other examples of local accomplishments that came through creative ideas, hard work and resilience. The thing that frustrates too many here is that it actually takes time and work to accomplish real success. Frankly, I have little patience for those that just want what they want now and can’t see the practical steps it takes to get something done.

 If you want to get good things done— it’s done bird by bird, stroke by stroke. We are fortunate to live in such a place…and I am fortunate that the staining project is over.

—Mark Reaman

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