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Insider and Outsider Views

Jaymie Oppenheim


There is something extraordinary about the untouched valley and towering mountain ranges that surround Crestone. It is not until seeing the overpowering beauty of the landscape and feeling the energy within the air that one can truly understand the sacredness of the region. There is a magnetism that seems to pull people toward Crestone; so powerful that religious groups from all over the world have recently built retreat centers in the hills above the town. In the words of Seltong, a Buddhist nun who is currently practicing the Tibetan tradition in Crestone, "There are plenty of places in the Rockies that are spectacular, but I’ve never come across a place that is quite so magical as this... and there’s a certain kind of energy that manifests itself here in a way that’s not like anywhere else I’ve ever been with the exception of some seriously heavy duty charged place in Tibet… Whatever quality it is that makes this place so magical, it’s not the kind of thing you can quantify” (Seltong, local and ordained Tibetan Buddhist nun: interviewed by Whitney). Crestone is unique not only for its natural beauty, but even more so for its religious diversity. Within the small town there are nearly 20 different spiritual communities, as well as a handful of individuals with no spiritual affiliation. The peaceful coming together of this eclectic group of people somehow creates a remarkable flow of positive and divine energy within and around the area; a true rarity in this day and age. For that reason, the possibility of nearby oil drilling is a fear that is shared among the Crestone people. As one local nun put it, "I don’t see how if that (drilling) progresses in the way that the corporation has intended that anything but destruction of what makes this place so special can happen ” (Seltong, local and ordained Tibetan Buddhist nun: interviewed by Whitney). How could anyone possibly believe that the economic benefit of drilling would outweigh the importance of preserving such a sacred space? This is a question that only an “outsider” could answer…

What exactly distinguishes an outsider from an insider? In regards to the fight against the potential oil drilling that would take place in Crestone, this question becomes very complicated. Are “insiders” only those who can call themselves locals of the remote town in Colorado, or should all people who support Crestone’s fight against the destruction of their land be considered insiders? On the opposite end of the spectrum, is an “outsider” anyone who defends Lexam and fossil fuel exploration, or is it any person who is not a true resident of the area? Depending on whom you ask, any one of us could be either. However, to definitively classify what distinguishes an “insider” from an “outsider” is not relevant. Instead, I would like to focus on presenting the voices of the people within Crestone’s community, the opinions and perspectives of the region’s true “insiders.” We were able to interview a number of residents, each one with a different story to tell or background to share. However, regardless of the individual’s religious or social identity, they were all connected through their unifying belief that, few, if any, places like Crestone exist today, and to permanently alter it for approximately two weeks worth of oil would be simply tragic.

Unfortunately, the argument against drilling becomes more complicated when you acknowledge that, if the drilling does not happen in Crestone, it will happen somewhere else. Many would argue that it is not fair to treat Crestone with superiority simply because some claim it is “sacred.” If beautiful land all over Wyoming is falling victim to drilling, why shouldn’t Crestone have to endure the same? Even those who are against the drilling are able to acknowledge and understand these disputes. As Joy Kells, a local firefighter of Crestone, mentioned, “They are going to drill somewhere. If we chase them away from here they are going to go somewhere else. We are not going to stop them from drilling. They are going to drill no matter what we do… We are going to use propane, then we have to acknowledge its okay to drill propane because I want it, I buy it, I keep warm with it. How can I say get my propane from someone else’s backyard?” (Joy Kells, Volunteer Firefighter, member of Cottonhood sustainable co-op, interviewed by Anna Jackson).

In Colorado Springs's Gazette, a local presents another "outsider" perspective, stating: "Again, campaigns to protect wildlife and natural environments are important. But so is the energy humans need to go about their lives. So are property rights, and the profits owners rightfully expect from them. In this case, with an environmental assessment predicting minimal impact, property rights and energy should reign supreme. Environmental activists would be wise to pick another fight" ( AnonymousThe Gazette. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Jan 27, 2008. pg. A.28).

Although a valid point, most locals would argue that Crestone is in fact special enough to be treated with certain exceptions. As Debra Floyds pointed out, “Everything is sacred, you can't separate that out. There are just some places that are more powerful than others, and this place is. I have been to a lot of sacred places, and I find that I get clearer in my communication with the divine here than any other place” (Debra Floyd, The Village Witch. Interviewed by Caroline and Anna.). So many religious groups have settled in Crestone because of its pristine and untouched landscape. Crestone is so peaceful and uninterrupted by civilization that it feels as if nothing else exists. It is, essentially, the ideal place for spiritual retreats, while people can literally disappear in the mountains where they will not see nor hear any human activity. The members of each spiritual community are aware of the fact that the sounds of oil rigs and big trucks will significantly affect their ability to offer such life-changing retreats. Naomi Mattis is one of many who fears that outsiders do not understand just how vital the solitude of Crestone is. She pointed out that “People don’t just go sit in a cabin for 100 days…when you come to retreats…awareness increases when people just have open space and time…there are specific instructions for these practices…these retreats are very meaningful, very powerful.” (Naomi Mattis, Mangala Shri Bhuti and CSA. Intervied by Sarah Oliphant). It is undeniable that the people of Crestone raise valid arguments. However, they struggle to find a way to get the “outsiders” to see the situation from an “insider’s” standpoint. As Joy Kells points out, “They are in it for the profit…There is a whole different set of guiding philosophies and goals behind these two different groups. And I don’t know how this cultural chasm is going to resolve itself.” (Joy Kells, Volunteer Firefighter, member of Cottonhood sustainable co-op, interviewed by Anna Jackson). The values and concerns of these two groups of people are entirely different. While the “insiders” are concerned with preserving their sacred land for the generations to come, “outsiders” are engrossed in the temporary and materialistic benefits of the profit.

“When outside people come in here and try to rape this land this community always goes into extreme upset, but this would be the worst yet, of all things we’ve fought here…It will destroy this place. If you started drilling here, you would completely disturb the energies at every single level, every single plane here. There are hidden levels to this place that should never ever be touched by outsiders. Drilling is a violation… It would rape the land. They’re always after the water in the aquifer, always, and they would probably poison the aquifer. The whole Southwest depends on it…I would have to see what the land says to me, but I have a feeling I would have to leave, which would break my heart.” (Debra Floyd, The Village Witch. Interviewed by Caroline and Anna.)

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