Having to buy yet another sympathy card

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My best friend back in Kansas called me during the day last week, which he hardly ever does. Usually, when we talk on the phone, it’s at night, since we’re both working during the day.
So when I noticed he was calling, I wondered what it might be. Usually, when he calls during the day it’s because he has some funny story to tell, or some breaking story to share.
This time it was bad news.
A friend of ours we had gone to junior high and high school with was on life support. She had had a brain aneurysm the night before. Her husband was waiting for one of the couple’s three college-age sons to return home, before making the decision to take her off life support.
My friend and I were stunned. It didn’t seem fair.
This woman — I still want to call her a “girl,” since that’s how I remember her — was one of the sweetest people you would ever want to meet. She was the typical girl next door. She was smart. She was nice to everybody. She was a cheerleader. She was voted homecoming queen our senior year in high school. Everybody loved Jan. All of us guys had a huge crush on her. She was my girlfriend for a while when we were in junior high.
For the past 27 years, Jan had been a grade-school teacher. She had received numerous awards for being an outstanding teacher. Her students loved her. Like I said, everybody loved her.
Jan’s death was so unexpected, so shocking. It seemed surreal; like a bad dream. Even though I read her obituary online in my hometown newspaper, and I saw her picture, it still didn’t seem real.
I last saw Jan at our 30th high school reunion in 2007. I had run into her a few other times in recent years. It was always great to see her. She was one of those people who never seemed to change. She looked the same as she did in high school or junior high. The same dark hair. The same big, dark eyes. The same smile.
Jan always left you feeling better about yourself than you did before. I remember a chance meeting we had two or three years ago. I had gone through a rough time after my divorce. I was kind of a mess. Jan gave me a hug and one of those reassuring looks that said, “It’ll be OK. You’re gonna be all right.”
Sometimes, when people are eulogized, the unflattering parts of their life are omitted or glossed over. In Jan’s case, no exaggeration is necessary. She really was one of the nicest, sweetest people you’d ever want to meet.
Jan was 49. But to me, she will always be a homecoming queen.
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I had just mentioned to someone the other day that, anymore when I buy a card to send to someone, more often than not, it seems like it is a sympathy card.
In the past few weeks, I have bought at least seven sympathy cards. Last week alone, I sent three.
I hope I don’t have to send any sympathy cards for a while.
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None of us is immune to tragedy or death.
Both of my parents are living, for which I’m grateful, but all of my grandparents have been gone for a long time.
Ten years ago, the person who gave me my start in the newspaper business and who was like a father to me, was killed in a car accident, along with his wife. Their deaths left a big void in my life. It took a couple of years before I could talk about them without getting choked up. I know my world will never be the same.
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After writing recently about the DOW’s Habitat Partnership Program, Reed Kelley wrote me a note about the early days of the program.
Kelley, who moved to Meeker full time in 1988, was a member of the statewide committee formed to “oversee and advise” the implementation of the DOW’s Habitat Partnership Program, when it was formed in 1990. He was appointed by the Colorado Wildlife Federation as one of the committee members representing sportsmen.
Kelley said the committee was made up of a representative from each of the key agencies involved — the Division of Wildlife, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, two livestock representatives (livestock and sheep), one crop producer, two sportsmen and a Colorado State University Extension representative.
“One of the most critical things I worked on in my last few years for CWF was making sure that sportsmen (and women) would have a representative on the local HPP committees,” Kelley said. “After all, it’s sportsmen’s dollars that pay for the program.”
Kelley served as one of the committee members representing sportsmen on the state HPP Council up until about four years ago. Wiley Berthelson, a long-time rancher in the Piceance Basin, represented the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association back when the HPP Council was established.
The sportsmen weren’t always welcome, Kelley said.
“This was a decision made by the Wildlife Commission and, frankly, was done over the dead bodies of the DOW director at the time and his Colorado Cattlemen’s Association friends,” Kelley said.
Berthelson said there has been an age-old conflict between landowners and sportsmen.
“It has always been there, and it’s still there,” Berthelson said. “(The two sides) have conflicting interests, and there’s a lack of people on both sides wanting to understand the other side of the issue and an unwillingness to compromise.”
But progress has been made, and HPP has helped foster better relations between the two groups.
“Down through the years, there’s plenty of blame on both sides,” Berthelson said. “But there’s not as much conflict as there used to be. HPP has done more to resolve some of the issues and conflicts than anything DOW has done before or after.”
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I was intrigued by last week’s photo, taken near Logan Canyon, Utah, of white elk. So I decided to ask around.
“Interestingly, white deer, elk and moose tend to draw a cult following when they appear,” said Randy Hampton, public information officer for the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s northwest region. “We constantly see pictures floating around the Internet that include pictures of white animals.
“One challenge, in terms of knowledge about these animals, is the fact that white animals lack the natural camouflage that species develop over generations, so they are often killed by predators rather quickly,” Hampton said. “There may be more white deer or elk than we know about because they may be more quickly removed from populations, because they stand out so glaringly.”
Bill de Vergie, area wildlife manager for the DOW, said, from his experience, white animals are extremely rare.
“In the 17 years I have worked this area, I have not seen a white elk,” de Vergie said. “Only a couple of (white) deer, locally.”
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Someone told me when a sheep drive was going through Meeker recently some of the Great Pyrenees, which were herding the sheep, stopped at the mountain lion statue on Market Street and growled. That must make artist John Kobald feel good about the real-life quality of his cat statue.
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Nancy (I’m sorry, I don’t know her last name) and I keep running into each other all over town. At the grocery store, at the laundromat, at the bank, at the museum, at the Eighth Street Bed Breakfast in Meeker, where she and her husband were staying. They are now at the Flying U Guest House. Nancy and her husband are here temporarily from Oklahoma. Her husband works in the oil field. They will be leaving soon, she said, to return to Oklahoma. I’ll miss seeing my “walking friend” Nancy around town.
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I continue to hear a lot of speculation or concern about how the economy will affect the future of energy development in the area. But, from what I’m hearing from the energy companies, it will be business as usual. Meaning, the companies may not be planning to expand operations in the Piceance Basin in 2009, but they will likely continue the same level of activity.
For example, as Jeff Roedell of Chevron, said, “At this point, Chevron’s plans for the Rangely Field in Rio Blanco County call for an investment level very similar to the past two years. Chevron previously announced that it would not be expanding its investment in the Piceance Basin Natural Gas Program (mostly in Garfield County), keeping the investment at 2008 levels going forward.”
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It’s nice to see gas prices continue to drop. In Rio Blanco County, as of Monday, prices were around $2.09 a gallon. In my hometown of Lawrence, Kan., I saw where prices had fallen to $1.45. Nationally, the average is $1.75.
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A couple of co-workers offered their opinions about my “senior moments,” when I tend to forget things.
“I don’t think it has to do with your age,” one co-worker said. “It’s your gender.”
Another co-worker quickly chimed in.
“I’m sorry, but I have to agree with that,” the co-worker said.
Did I mention both of these co-workers happen to be women?
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I told my friend back in Kansas — who also happens to be a guy and who also tends to forget things — I would send him a copy of my column about senior moments.
“Yeah,” he said, “if you remember.”

Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at jeff@theheraldtimes.com.