McLean column: Some basics for which we can be thankful |

McLean column: Some basics for which we can be thankful

Roland McLean

Having grown up in the arid Southwest, I am always thankful for water. We are fortunate to live in an area of adequate water, at least for now. I remember how my great uncle lost the water rights for his farm in Hope, New Mexico. He was forced to plow his crops under, cut down his beloved apple trees and sell them for firewood.

Paul Theroux in “Dark Safari” writes of a woman sitting by a river in Africa throwing rocks into the river. He asked what she was doing. The answer was that she was trying to determine if crocodiles were present before she dunked her bucket in. I assume she was thankful when crocs were not present. Approximately 500 people are reported killed by crocs in Tanzania each year. Many more, mainly women drawing water, are maimed.

We have worked on a hydro project in the Mbeya region of Tanzania. During the rainy season the Momba River runs larger than the Colorado during runoff. However, flow ceases completely during the dry season. Villagers along the way are forced to dig in the river bottom for water during those months. There is little reason for them to be thankful.

As part of that project, water systems will be installed in the nearby villages. The dam will provide flow throughout the dry season. Villages below the dam will have access to a reliable water supply for drinking and irrigation. Perhaps then they can be thankful.

While I am thankful that we live in an area of seemingly abundant water, I am concerned that it is temporary. How long can we expect the watershed of these mountains to supply us, the Eastern Slope, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Southern California? Hopefully there are some long-range plans in the works. Do we bring water from the Northwest or the Great Lakes? Does it make sense for Aspen to dam up Castle Creek and Maroon Creek? I know they have water rights, but if every community in the watershed dammed the creeks in their vicinity, what would be the impact on the flow downstream?

I am also thankful not to be homeless in America. After an early flight into Denver on a cold snowy day, I wandered in downtown Denver while waiting for Bustang to bring me back to Glenwood. Unshaven, somewhat disheveled and wearing an old coat, I must have looked like the homeless on the 16th Street Mall. Passengers on the free mall bus gave me a wide berth even though I had showered that morning.

It caused me to reflect on those less fortunate who are homeless. In downtown Denver most were male and seemed to be older. They rode the bus or huddled outside 7-Eleven for warmth. Later I saw one who appeared to be drunk chased out of Union Station into the cold by the police. It makes me thankful that “there but for the grace of God go I.”

It is hard to imagine days filled with an immediate goal of finding shelter from the cold, finding food and perhaps alcohol or other drugs. It is also hard to find a solution to the homeless problem. We tend to look for broad solutions to a problem that is very individual.

I once knew a man quite well who was homeless in Chicago. Adding to the emotional problems caused by a difficult childhood were the stresses of service in Vietnam. He turned to the use of alcohol and other drugs. Only a relentless and loving intervention by his sister helped him in turning his life around. Prior to dying, he had a few good years with her.

Family made the difference for him. Others have been helped by religion and obtaining a relationship with God. The Salvation Army does a lot of good for the homeless. However, no one solution has the answer for each person. Temporarily we can provide them with food and shelter, but as a society we need to look for real long-term solutions.

I am thankful for idealistic young people who want to save the world and find those solutions. In Union Station I met a young man who came to Colorado to apply for a Ph.D. program in the Atlas Institute at the University of Colorado. With an undergraduate degree in biology and computer science, he hoped to be able to enter the innovative CU TAM program that attempts to solve problems with an interface between computer technology, sociology, engineering and other disciplines. Entering that program would mean giving up a lucrative IT consulting business, but he seemed determined to make a contribution to society.

At 25 he was semi seriously disappointed that he had not yet been able to have a major impact on the world for good. I listened to him as he described his experiences traveling in India. While he seemed undaunted by taking on any challenge, he appeared to be deeply moved by his experiences with the grinding poverty there, especially in Calcutta where Mother Teresa had worked. Although he had not abandoned a shipload of pilgrims, I felt like Marlowe listening to Lord Jim.

This Thanksgiving I am thankful that there are young, idealistic people like him trying to save the world.

Roland McLean, an Aspen Glen resident, is a University of Colorado graduate, Navy veteran and retiree after more than 30 years in international construction. His column appears on the fourth Thursday of each month. Reach him at

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