Birds of Chicago


Allison Russell
What? I don’t know. Depends on how many beers I’ve had.

I’ve found some new heroes in the last few weeks. Allison Russell and her husband count among them. Picture some southern rock piling into the car, slamming it north, sideswiping the Carolina Chocolate Drops, taking a whif of Austin, picking up some funk along the way and then flooring it all the way to Chicago to have a hot date with Aretha Franklin. All the while with a cheek to cheek grin on their face.

Birds of Chicago is a great small band that played in Paonia town park last week. It’s worth it to take a night to go see them if they’re passing through. Allison is expecting come December, after which they hit the road again with mother in law in tow as babysitter.

These guys are all love.  And if you hear them, as well you.

St. Vrain

Saint Francis Saint Veranus What if it’s not real? my daughter asks. I mean, what if none of that Jesus stuff happened and two thousand years of religion was based on it?  What a total complete waste of energy.  All the churches and wars and books and songs and stuff might be based on something that never existed. Just think of the amount of time people have spent on this stuff, she said.


The St. Vrain Creek running through Lyons, Colorado is not directly named, as one might suppose, for Saint Veranus di Camillon, but instead for Ceran de Hault de Lassus de St. Vrain, a child born of French nobility in St. Louis in 1802, who later decamped to the American West in the 1830’s to establish himself in the fur trade. To distinguish himself from his brother, he appended the St. Vrain.  He was responsible in part for the collapse of the Western beaver populations by 1842. He later helped crush the Taos uprising after the native Puebloans and Mexicans defending themselves against the invading Americans killed and scalped his trading partner, William Bent.  The volunteers serving under St. Vrain killed more than 150 rebel Taoans and Mexicans.  St. Vrain later served as a translator for the rigged military tribunal.  Deliberating for only a few minutes, the angry mob commended fifteen more souls to death.

Taos uprisingThe Taoans originally followed the intricate Puebloan ceremonial cycle, but later subsumed their beliefs to Catholicism after the Reconquest in 1692.  In that year, Diego de Varga retook the Southwest and subjected the natives once again to Spanish rule and the dominion of the Franciscans.

Which leads to a greater irony.  In April 1847, a man of French descent who carried the name of Saint Veranus, a 6th century French bishop known for his charity, bore witness against 15 Mexicans and Taoan rebels who were then hung for treason.  Fifteen men who had allied themselves to the will of St. Francis – patron saint of animals, the environment, Italy, merchants, stowaways, and the Cub Scouts – fell to the will and untoward legacy of St. Veranus, the patron saint of nothing in particular.

An even greater tragedy is that you couldn’t make this stuff up. It’s enough to make you believe in God. And what a fellow he is.



At a recent gathering I stepped into a dispute about the efficacy of vaccinations for children.  I haven’t been paying too close attention, but I guess there’s been a growing backlash against vaccinations.  Anti-vaccine adherents have cited studies showing a causal tie between vaccines and autism (the data which was later shown to have been falsified), or are driven by a general distrust of Big Pharma. Some believe that vaccines may actually compromise our immune systems, by making them “more dependent on outside drugs” and less robust.

Well, here’s one.  In a widely cited study of measles and pertussis vaccinations and outbreaks in Colorado, CDC researcher Daniel Feikin discovered that children who went unvaccinated were 22 times more likely to contract measles than vaccinated children.  That’s perhaps to be expected.

The interesting kicker is that the unvaccinated children were actually vectors for measles outbreaks among children who had been vaccinated.  Schools with pertussis outbreaks had three times as many exemptors. The chances of there being an outbreak in a county basically increased with the number of vaccine exemptors.  Believing that they had the right to tend to their own bodies how they saw fit, anti-vaccination proponents put the larger community at risk.

As Dr. Feikin noted, “A single unvaccinated child in a community of vaccinated children holds a strategically opportunistic high ground, protected from risk of disease by herd immunity while avoiding risk of exceedingly rare adverse events associated with vaccination. Yet, when too many parents want their child to be that child, the entire community is affected.”

The final grace note?  My wife is a doctor within Kaiser.  Where do the greatest number of unvaccinated children in the Kaiser California system reside?

Marin County.

One of the most affluent community in California chooses not to vaccinate their children.  They’ve never seen the effects of measles or polio.  What risks can those diseases possibly pose?  So they opt out, thinking it won’t affect the larger community.

A national study shows that unvaccinated children come from well-educated, upper income, predominantly white families.  And in Colorado?  It’s San Miguel County, home to the wealthy and largely liberal San Juan ski towns.

Take that cake and eat it.

Yeast Shit

Call it what it is. Fermentation is basically what happens when certain yeast cultures do their thing. They eat, they breath, they shit. Yeast eats sugar. When it breathes, it exhales carbon dioxide (the stuff that makes bread rise and beer fizz). And when yeast defecates, it shits out alcohol.

Which, it turns out, humans actually like to drink. Kind of gross isn’t it?

And that brings me to Colorado spirits. Back in the day there were lots of small scale yeast farmers. Practically everyone did it. Picture the toothless guy making his hooch in Appalachia. Then it became the exclusive provence of industrial distillers: factory farms for yeast and yeast crap.

But now we see the resurgence of small-scale local artisanal distillers. And the San Juans have become a hotbed. Maybe it’s the remoteness or the mining past (when any three block town sported six saloons and as many cathouses). Or maybe just chalk it up to southern Colorado wackiness.

Throw it all together in a copper still, boil away the vapor, and what’s left? Jackalope gin out of Telluride. Montanya Platino rum (big gold and silver medalist) out of Silverton. Telluride vodka (rated 92 by Wine Enthusiast). And of course Stranahan’s whiskey (actually out of Denver, but they count for wackiness).

So do you really need to drink all that yeast shit? Not really, though it’s all exemplary for smoothness and taste. The really BIG thing is that those gazillion defecating yeast are leading the way in the relocalization of our economy.

And as big oil falls apart, those little yeast (or at least their agricultural counterparts) will become literal lifesavers. In ecosystems, heterogeneity and diversity equate to stability. As does small scale interdependence coupled with relative self-sufficiency. You make the whiskey. I’ll grow the corn. And if you don’t come through with the whiskey, I’m still good for the corn.

Furthermore, when I get my whiskey from you, 80 cents out of every dollar remain in the community and are shared among us. If I buy from Diageo (the world’s largest liquor company) god knows where that money goes. And on top of that, both my corn and your whiskey create social currency – you and I have a relationship, we’re working to support one another. Relationships are uber-currency. They’ll support us when both the dollar and the euro fall apart.

Which leads to a great irony. All those abandoned silver towns high in the San Juans that have struggled for five decades? They’ve had a head start in trying to figure it out. And woe to those large cities that are still on petroleum life support.

I’m sure there’s some mountain rat who’ll drink to that.

Written in Mancos