The petite blonde, standing underneath one of the decorated Ponderosa pine trees at the base of the Reservoir Hill sledding area on Saturday evening, held the microphone and spoke briefly about the quiet beauty of this undeveloped community park.
Christine Funk, chair of a group calling themselves "Friends of Reservoir Hill", was one of the key organizers of this inaugural event — a tree-lighting festival on Reservoir Hill. As far as I know, this was the first time any trees in this downtown wilderness park had been decorated and lighted for Christmas. The start of a new tradition?
Standing beside Ms. Funk, and waiting to do the honor of plugging in the lights, was Pagosa's long-time mayor, Ross Aragon.
A crowd of maybe 50 people — largely, from what I could tell, younger working-class families, many with children in tow — stood listening to Christine's brief speech. Surely, we had all seen tree lighting ceremonies before, but this event was different somehow. As the evening light faded in the sky, this ceremony was punctuating a rather intense political battle currently unfolding in the little town of Pagosa Springs, concerning the proposed development of Reservoir Hill into a government-funded amusement park.
A battle for Pagosa's future, we might even say.
We might categorize this ongoing political battle as a clash between Pagosa's "Old Guard" — the politically powerful, small-town cabal sometimes referred to as the "good ole boys" — and the much-younger newcomers like Christine Funk who have moved to Pagosa in the past ten or twenty years to escape the urban rat-race so prevalent in much of America. That young working-class population is now starting new families, and tiny new Pagosa residents — babies and children — were plentiful among the crowd on Reservoir Hill Saturday night.
Santa Claus himself had made an appearance at the event, in the person of an older Pagosan gentleman who didn't mind giving the young ladies a squeeze.
Other volunteers had brought along trays of Christmas cookies — pumpkin cookies, sugar cookies, gingerbread cookies — and the crowd was warmed by several free-standing heating units spaced here and there.
On the sledding hill, immediately adjacent to Saturday night's ceremonial tree-lighting, children were running their plastic sleds down well-traveled tracks.
Ms. Funk, herself a young mother, finished her very brief speech, and handed the microphone over to mayor Aragon — sometimes known by the Spanish-language term El Hefe, best translated perhaps as "The Boss".
The mayor began by praising Ms. Funk for her obvious energy and commitment to the cause of Reservoir Hill, and even more, perhaps, for her willingness to be "positive". Then the mayor turned and, at Ms. Funk's signal, plugged in the Christmas lights. At the same moment, other volunteers plugged in the light wrapped in two nearby pine trees. The crowd gave a roar of approval.
Then another young resident, Matt deGraaf, took up the microphone and gave us a reading from the classic Clement Clark Moore poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas" — penned in 1822 and better known as "Twas the Night Before Christmas." The crowd joined in by calling out, in chorus voices, the final rhyming word of each verse.
Mr. deGraaf has his own connection to the wilderness on Reservoir Hill, as one of the key volunteer organizers behind the Pagosa Disc Golf Club, and the 18-hole "Frisbee" golf course that was installed over the past few years — by volunteers — along the southern perimeter of the park... and which can be played free of charge, any time of the year.
I suppose there are two basic types of parks in America. One type can be enjoyed by all — rich and poor — free of charge. The other type requires us to pay... sometimes, hundreds of dollars... for its enjoyment.
Following Mr. deGraaf's reading, the crowd was thanked for their participation, and people began milling down off the hill in small groups, headed for the warmth of their separate homes — within the Town limits perhaps, or more likely, outside those limits in the unincorporated county.
For a brief moment, then, the leaders of two conflicting political camps — mayor Ross Aragon representing the "good ole boys" of Pagosa Springs' Town government, and Christine Funk, representing the new young voters of downtown Pagosa — had come together to perform a ceremony of peace and joy: the lighting of Christmas trees on Reservoir Hill.
The meeting of darkness and light. For a brief moment.
Read Part Two...