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Activist took a lesson from Henry David Thoreau

Post Independent/Kelley Cox Horses and llamas watch intently as Tara Meixsell of the New Castle area carries the feed bucket Sunday morning.
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In the summers she rode her bike every day to a pond in the woods where she swam. But more than just reveling in the coolness of Walden Pond on a hot summer day, Tara Meixsell absorbed much more. An author and activist who lives in New Castle and grew up in Sudbury, Mass., Meixsell took to heart the words of the man who made Walden Pond famous, Henry David Thoreau.Quoting Thoreau’s words about his life in the woods away from civilization Meixsell said, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and to see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”Meixsell set her course to follow Thoreau’s ideals – to live simply, to follow your conscience and to treasure wilderness.Growing up, Meixsell was “what you would call a typical tomboy,” riding her bike, swimming in Walden Pond, enjoying the freedom of a semi-rural upbringing.When she was a young woman in her mid-20s, a close friend committed suicide. The experience touched her deeply but strengthened her ideals.She learned, she said, not to “waste your one chance in life. Life can be so superficial.”Despite the shock of losing someone to an untimely death, Meixsell said it also made her value “how precious life is.”Her friend’s death prompted her to move away from Oregon, where she had attended Reed College in Portland and taught in Montessori schools after graduating in 1983. She moved to Denver in 1990 and found a teaching job.A few years later she succumbed to the siren call of the mountains and moved to Breckenridge.

“I was the obsessed skier. I loved it,” she said.Meixsell also managed to study for her Montessori school director certification while indulging her passion.”I learned to read on chairlifts with a complicated system of paper clips,” and she listened to tapes. “I forced myself to do it. If you have a regimen you can get it done.”She and her husband bought property in nearby Fairplay where she kept her horses. Fairplay, tucked into the high plains of South Park, has a rich mining history that captivated Meixsell.A local legend of a mysterious woman called Silverheels was the subject of a book Meixsell wrote during a bad winter.”We were building a house and living in an Airstream trailer without running water,” she said. To keep from going stir crazy she wrote.Everyone in Fairplay and Alma knows the legend of the veiled woman with the shady past, a dancer who wore silver heels in her shoes, who came to the mining town of Buckskin Joe near Alma in the 1860s. She arrived during the gold boom and stayed to nurse the miners during a smallpox epidemic when many were fleeing the town.Silverheels also caught the disfiguring disease, according to the legend, and was never seen again. South Parkers believe nearby Mount Silverheels was named for the lady, and some believe she still haunts the Buckskin Joe graveyard clothed in a long black veil.Meixsell’s novel of historical fiction embellishes the legend with adventure, romance and tragedy. She is now working on a second historical novel based on a friend’s family in Salida.After 10 years in the Breckenridge area, Meixsell divorced and remarried. She and her new husband decided to move out of the area and made the jump to Glenwood Springs in 2002. She now works for Mountain Valley Developmental Services as an administrator.

Since moving to New Castle, and especially after learning about the impending natural gas development around Silt Mesa, Meixsell has become more and more involved in advocating for the land.Meixsell comes by her passion for causes honestly. When she was a teenager, her father retired as a ballistic missile scientist and took a very sharp turn.”He became a self-employed environmental consultant,” she said. “That basically motivated me unconsciously. As dad would say, ‘You activate the political process.'”While living in Fairplay, she became involved with a group of local people who initiated a law suit to prevent the city of Aurora from draining water out of South Park for its own use.The group mounted a ballot initiative and raised money to hire water lawyers and geologists.”We were successful” in keeping the city from taking water out of South Park, she said.Now she is equally passionate about at least slowing the pace of oil and gas development in the valley and making sure those impacted have a say in how it’s done.”As a landowner here and a person concerned about the future of where we live … I became motivated even more to learn as much as I could and get involved with local and state representatives and in Washington, D.C.”She has become involved with a local group, the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, and with the regional Western Colorado Congress.



“As someone who does not want see gas rigs all over the valley in which I live, it’s something I feel strongly about it. A lot of people take a stand that oil and gas is so big, why waste your time. It’s an easy position to take, but I feel a lot can be done by voicing an opinion.”Meixsell believes in speaking out and asking for what she wants.”By becoming involved as a citizen as industry moves into your backyard you’re not just putting your head in the sand,” she said.When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast this summer Meixsell turned her considerable energies to the animal rescue effort. She raised money to support a group of local folks who traveled to New Orleans and brought back eight abandoned dogs to the valley. She also was at the forefront of a campaign to save one dog, Buster, from what they saw as certain death after he bit the director of a local animal shelter.”We got into this to save this dog and give all the dogs a fair shake,” she said.For Meixsell, the lessons learned in the waters of Walden Pond have translated well to the West, a land she loves with a passion.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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