Mountain Passages: Fireweed Season and the Failures of Congress

“It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.”     —Mark Twain

Fireweed Season means we’ll see our first snow flurry here in the High Country within six weeks. Sure, it’s just the first week in August and the most magnificent season in the mountains is just beginning, but Fireweed is a harbinger.

It’s none of my business, but I thought I’d ask your opinion on something. I just simply wanted to ask if you think Congress is doing a good job? Maybe you don’t care. That’s okay. Congress obviously doesn’t give much of a shit about you either, or any of us for that matter. You are also probably wondering what this has to do with Fireweed. I’ll try to get to that.fireweed 2

The first time I see Fireweed blooming along the north side of a building or along a road, two thoughts pass through my small brain, “Oh no, oh no, summer is almost over. I gotta get going on twenty-eight of those thirty hikes, rides, and runs that I haven’t done yet.”

And the second thought is, “Time to start negotiations with Blue Eyes for new skis.” While it should be noted, I’m perfectly happy to buy last year’s skis for half price this fall (still more money than I paid for my first car). And if a slight truth is known—I wouldn’t use new skis until mid-December at the earliest. And if the ultimate truth be known—my old rock knockers are just dandy for the early season. I just get excited about skiing again when I see the first clump of Fireweed bloom.

I used to be a liberal but with longer teeth have drifted toward the center. Or maybe I’ve just learned that to get stuff done you need to cooperate with other folks and often compromise. It’s a Zen Archer sort of thing. I’ve just learned to visualize what we all agree on needs to be done and stay focused on that, not all the petty little personalities and details and power-plays…they don’t matter.

The flowers almost always explode in large groups of pinkish stalks about three feet high. My handy dandy edition of Jim Ell’s Rocky Mountain Flora identifies Fireweed as Chamerion augustifolium and tells us to, “look for pink flowers with exserted styles of loosely flowered racemes.” Of course, racemes.

 Most pundits are a waste of hot air. I sort of listen to them tell me stuff like ‘Nero is an okay fiddler’ and have to laugh at their parochialism. Besides, they are mostly wrong. But there is an exception, the conservative commentator David Brooks who is smart enough to be President, but knows better. Last week he quoted a poll that said twelve percent of Americans approved of how Congress was doing their job. And then he looked at the camera and you could almost hear him think, “A twelve percent approval rate is nuts.”

Let me put this in perspective for those of you (like me) who are mathematically challenged. Suppose you are standing in line with ten folks waiting for your coffee in Breckenridge and the barista is chatting up the first patron because he or she is a looker, ignoring the rest of the line. Nine of you think the barista is incompetent. That’s an amazing amount of dissatisfaction.

As the summer flows along I don’t look for Fireweed, I just know, that as regular as the monsoon rains here, the Fireweed is coming. And then there is August when you can do a three-sport day with no trouble at all. Yes, beer drinking is considered a sport up here, in fact, a compulsory sport during certain seasons or about 365 days a year.

So regardless of your politics, left or right, wacko or wing nut, you are represented by people who are solely concerned with perpetuating their own power. And to do this, they constantly suck up to lobbyists and corporations for campaign donations. So if you happen to be ardently opposed to the playing of backgammon in public places and the American Association of Backgammon Manufacturers tosses your Congressperson a couple thousand dollars, you are going to see backgammon played at your local mountain bar; like it or not. Somehow, I don’t think the Founding Fathers were thinking that their country was going to be run by corporations and their shills.

The Founding Fathers were obviously self-interested and protecting those interests, but they managed to work through their differences and make some magical things happen. Today’s Congress…not at all. In fact they collectively can’t seem to find their own butts with both hands, much less figure a way to compromise and move us all forward.

Come September, with days that are so beautiful and bright it’s almost hard to believe you get to be up here. And in September we play even harder than in August. It’s like every sentient plant and being up here knows that serious winter will be here momentarily. The days get shorter, the evenings are cool, and the nights are cold. And about September here—it can be seventy degrees during the day or thirty—it all depends on the mood of the Mountain Gods.

So the answer is simple. A two-part 28th Constitutional Amendment that sets rules for gerrymandering and campaign finance.

Resolved: Each state’s Congressional districts are divided evenly by population so that there are no longer any safe districts. Any state that doesn’t comply will immediately lose all Federal funding.

Resolved: Every congressional candidate nominated from parties that represent at least twenty-five percent of the voters gets five million dollars to run his or her campaign. Along with the money comes an FBI auditor permanently attached to their campaign and office if they are elected. Should the auditor find any proof of malfeasance, the Congressperson will be immediately put into a cocktail dress and dropped into the yard of the nearest maximum security prison.

Fireweed 1And what has all this got to do with Fireweed season? I needed to rant about Congress but I also needed to let you know that the best season in the mountains isupon us. And that this country is still a pretty amazing place to live in spite of a Congress that is so stupid and arrogant that we the people want them gone.


Alan Stark is a freelance writer, and a member of Bryan Mountain Nordic Ski Patrol. He splits his time between Boulder and Breckenridge.