America is a Coal Town

th (1)I’ve been working off and on as a travel physician in Craig, Colorado. Those of you who love hunting will recognize it as one of the premier spots in the US for Elk. If you don’t recognize it, it’s about 40 miles West of Steamboat Springs, famous for it’s beautiful ski resort.

I haven’t had time to do any hunting, but I’ve treated a few hunters, both locals and those who came from points distant with campers and pals, ready to walk, ride horses or four-wheelers, ready to endure cold and fatigue for a chance at that once-in-a-lifetime Elk, or Mule Deer. I have enjoyed their stories of the hunt or stories of their work. These are men and women for whom life has been an adventure and will likely be one until they die. And when they come to me too injured by a fall or illness to return to the mountains, my heart breaks a little for them.

Craig, Colorado is also a coal town. I’m a West Virginian by birth, and I’m married to a coal-miner’s daughter. I’m comfortable with coal and those who labor for it. There are mines all around Craig, and an enormous coal power-plant that may be shut down by the state due to emissions; many will suffer, but doubtless someone will feel better about themselves as others go jobless. But so far, and I hope for a long time to come, tourism, agriculture and coal keep the place alive.

It’s a good thing, too. Because this town represents so much that is great in America; and so much that is disdained by American progressives, who can’t do the math and realize that the lights in their favorite bistro, and the charger for their cherished i-Pad or their new hybrid, are powered by coal, dug from the earth burned for electricity by tough people.

I smiled to myself one evening as two men walked into my hotel with their camoflage, packs and rifles in cases. Like all of the hunters I met, and miners, and ranchers and everyone else down to the waitresses at the Double Barrel Steakhouse, they were polite all around. They drive big trucks and many of them work in hard jobs; some drill for oil, some fly airplanes, some do construction or drive fuel trucks; one told me how he had run a bull-dozer in the Alaskan frontier in 1957. You could tell he was proud, and looked back on it with cherished nostalgia. The hotel is full of these men and women. The town is full of them.

And their very appearance would cause ‘the vapors’ in all too many big city hotels and restaurants, where these sort of people, these ‘red-staters,’ these people in ‘flyover country,’ these ‘hicks and right-wing nuts,’ these ‘haters’ and ‘patriots’ who sympathize with the right, even (gasp) with the Tea Party, are held in the deepest disdain.

Maybe that’s why I love it. I love working in a town where I can relate to the shared, common values of the people. I love taking care of them when they are sick or injured. I notice that these are tough people. They don’t take many medications and they don’t like going to the doctor. Sickness impedes their work, or their hunting, fishing or camping, the care of their cattle or sheep. They care for their kids, they care for one another. There is, still, a frontier mentality in America; the kind that not only says, ‘I’ll survive,’ but says ‘I’ll overcome. I want to prosper and I’ll work as hard as I can for my family and my kids.’

America was meant to be like this. I believe it’s what the founders envisioned. A land of opportunity, where prosperity meant risk and work. A land of patriotism and freedom, where you wouldn’t panic at a man with a gun slung over his shoulder or on his belt. They would be shocked to find that our media elites, our entertainers and too many professors, view the people of Craig and small towns everywhere as problems to be solved, as people in need of more rules and ‘enlightenment.’ They would be offended that many American urbanites view rural Americans, in remote places, as people whose values are ridiculous, whose faith is laughable and whose jobs (whether in providing food or power or anything else tangible and useful) are silly and pedestrian compared with jobs like community organizer, web-designer, sommelier, restauranteur, dog-whisperer, professor of multicultural studies or ‘non-profit’ worker. In a remarkable irony, the American progressive left that endlessly prattles on about the poor, the working class, the common man and all the rest actually views those same folks, and their values, as beneath contempt.

I love Craig, Colorado, and the people here. I’m a physician, but I feel diminished when I stand beside

these people who have worked and risked so much and who have struggled and overcome and who continue to fight for prosperity in the snow-capped mountains and wind-scoured valleys of this harsh, beautiful land. And I hope we can all maintain, or regain, the Spirit of the West.

Because despite the misrepresentation, the self-loathing, the political correctness, the revisionist history and the endless sarcasm and irony that pretends to represent the United States of today, the fact remains that spirit of the West is, at its core, the Spirit of America. If you doubt me, come to Craig next year and go for that big Bull Elk. You’ll see what I mean.


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